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Protecting Gray Whales in the Baja

Laguna Baja ARIC is a federation of nine community-based ecotourism enterprises operating in the San Ignacio Lagoon in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. The San Ignacio Lagoon is the last pristine gray whale birthing lagoon left on the Pacific coast of northwestern Mexico. The lagoon is also home to five small fishing communities with a total of some 500 residents who depend almost entirely on the sea for their livelihoods.

Entrepreneur Profile: Don Pachico

For more than 40 years, Jose Francisco Mayoral—also known as Don Pachico—has worked in the San Ignacio Lagoon. During this time, Don Pachico has had some unique experiences. He has guided renowned researchers from National Geographic and has worked with scientists and documentary filmmakers. He even served as Christopher Reeve’s tour guide in Into the Wild, a PBS series about gray whales.

But Don Pachico wasn't always so close to Hollywood fame. He moved to San Ignacio in the 1960s to work as a fisherman, and his path to world recognition began while he was fishing one day in 1972. Until that point, fisherman tales had described gray whales as aggressive and dangerous. As Pachico’s Ecotours now claims, “there had been no known contact between gray whales and man without one or the other ending up dead.”  But on that day, when a gray whale approached his fishing boat, a frightened Don Pachico was in for a surprise.

The gray whale that had unexpectedly glided next to his boat was not hostile, and after noticing this, Don Pachico reached out and touched the whale. With that one movement, he disproved the age-old myth that had caused fishermen to fear gray whales for centuries.  

With the goal of sharing his newfound knowledge, Don Pachico began guiding whale watching tours in the San Ignacio Lagoon. In 2000, Don Pachico founded Pachico's Ecotours, a family-run business and part of Laguna Baja ARIC.

Despite his renowned expertise, Don Pachico has had trouble accessing credit for his business. In fact, Root Capital has been his only source of credit and has been providing loans to Laguna Baja ARIC since 2002. 

"Through Laguna Baja ARIC we have been able to access credit from Root Capital. This opportunity has not only helped us to support our business but acts as great motivation for all of [Laguna Baja ARIC's] member organizations," he said.

In 2004, Don Pachico used credit from Root Capital to substitute his tour boat’s two-stroke engine with a more efficient and environmentally friendly four-stroke engine.

“I was able to cut maintenance costs and increase fuel efficiency, reduce environmental impact and sound pollution, protect the whales, and provide a better service to my clients.”

And to think it all started with a friendly gray whale.