A Facebook video shows an astonishing friendship between Paco Jimenez Franco — captain of a tourist boat in Mexico — and a gray whale that allows Franco to pat his head and remove his lice.
The video was taken at the calving lagoon of Ojo de Liebre on Mexico’s Pacific coast, part of the Vizcaino Biosphere reserve and a UNESCO world heritage site.
Here, whales migrate each year to give birth to their young, and it seems that they’ve developed a trusting relationship with the local people.
The caption describes that Franco is removing whale lice — cyamids — from the whale’s head. (Note: Due to the video’s dimensions, expanding to full-screen may be required for optimal viewing.)
Cyamids are different from the head lice that humans can get. They’re larger, and they latch onto algae stuck to the whale or feed on dead skin from a wound. They benefit the whale to some extent, but it’s assumed that they also cause minor skin irritation that is uncomfortable for the whales.
Regardless, the Guardian mentioned that whales often have hundreds of cyamids, so removing a few won’t make a difference to their health.
In the video, the whale comes to the surface of the water and patiently waits as Franco picks off a few lice — even spinning around so he could reach the other side of his head.
When he is finished, Franco gives the whale a pat to tell him that he’s all set, and the whale even lingers above the water, seemingly wanting to interact more, making the passengers laugh.
“He loves it!” a bystander says in the background.
While we can’t know for sure if this is true, the whale’s behavior indicates that it does enjoy the interaction.
Whales are known for being remarkably intelligent, and the interaction between Franco and the gray whale seemingly shows the whale’s understanding and trust in Franco — as well as Franco’s respect and trust in it.
This is an important relationship, as almost half of the great whale species are currently endangered due to loss of habitat and accidents with fishing boats and equipment. Conservation efforts are working to reverse this, but folks like Franco are making a huge difference, too, by modeling mutual respect and admiration.
Commenters on the post were blown away by the interaction.
“Wow! That’s awesome!” one user wrote.
Others chimed in with, “Extraordinary!” and “I love this story!”
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