Definition: When a whale leaps partly or completely out of the water, head first, and lands on the back or belly with a resounding splash.

This is the first piece of art I made when we decided to move to Puerto Vallarta to live, and I would return to visual art. It’s very rough and loose with special meaning. I ran across it today when I was sorting.

When I was a kid, my father used to take me to the Point Loma Lighthouse in San Diego to watch the humpback whales on their journey south from Alaska to Mexico. Around Thanksgiving, we would grab his WWII binoculars he “got” from a German soldier. My father was a “forward observer” in one of Patton’s troops. Still, in a worn leather case, they were his main tool. The sides were marked with numbers my father used to calculate the distance and direction of the Germans for the artillery. We would take turns looking through the binoculars, searching the Pacific for whales.

I didn’t know it at the time, but those whales were on their way to the Bay of Banderas. They arrive here in early to mid-December to give birth. So this glorious corner of the Pacific is now a constant part of my life in Mexico, ever-changing and beautiful.

The first time we came to Puerto Vallarta, Zander was in the third grade. We took him out of school to extend our trip with the promise to his teacher that he would come back with a report of an “educational activity.” The Bahia de Banderas is a marine mammal preserve. A protected treasure. The University of Guadalajara has an institute here to study the many magnificent creatures in the Bay.

We awoke early one morning and met a young graduate student biologist with a specialty in marine mammals. We learned that every whale’s tail is like a fingerprint. They can track the population, naming each whale. They also use this technique to track the dolphins. The mothers give birth in the warm waters and stay nursing and teaching their young important whale lessons. A male humpback is always nearby to provide protection.

That morning we followed a mother and her baby. They were very active, breaching (flinging their bodies in the air) frequently. Later, she put a microphone down into the water, and we listened to their whale songs, mysterious and beautiful.

On the way back, we stopped and Zander got into the water to swim and play with the dolphins.

A perfect day. Great learning for us all. Zander wrote a report accompanied by photographs.