The Gray Whale’s Eye – What do We See?

Benjamin-Whale-Eye-WEBWhat do we see when we look into the eye of a whale? Some say that “the eyes are the windows to the soul”, evoking emotion and wonder. Others say that animals look for man’s intentions by looking into his eyes. Is this true for the gray whales of Laguna San Ignacio?

Gray whales In Laguna San Ignacio, including calves, frequently approach boats full of eco-tourists to have a look at them, or even to approach close enough for the whale-watchers to touch and pet the whales. They roll to one side and gaze up at the boat and its passengers with their large brown eye, as if to scan the faces and outstretched arms. What could the whales be thinking? Perhaps this is why they are known as “Ballenas misteriosas” or “Curious whales.”

For most of us, looking into the eye of a living, free-swimming, wild whale can be an emotional experience. Author Dick Russel was so moved by his first “close-up” look at a gray whale that he named his book about gray whales “The EYE of the Whale.” Some whale-watchers describe the experience as “life changing.”

Gray whales see moderately well both in air and water, but their visual system is likely inferior to their auditory system because of functional restrictions in turbid water and darkness. Their eyes are flattened on the front to compensate for the refraction of light in water, making them near-sighted out of the water. The rods and cones in their eyes are adapted for heightened sensitivity to dim light and for improving contrast and resolution underwater. The position of the eyes suggests that they have stereoscopic vision forward and downward permitting estimation of distance while swimming and searching for food on the ocean floor.Steve-Whale-Eye-WEB

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