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Originally published Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 12:52 PM

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Defender of Mexico’s gray whales dies

Francisco Mayoral was a longtime fisherman who became an influential whale-watching guide, and a protector of the animals, in the Baja coastal lagoon of San Ignacio

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MEXICO CITY — Francisco Mayoral, a noted defender of Mexico’s gray whales and one of the country’s earliest and most-experienced whale-watching guides, died of a stroke Tuesday in Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. He was 72.

A longtime fisherman, Mayoral became a whale guide and for four decades took researchers out to see the whales, said Serge Dedina, executive director of the conservation group Wildcoast.

Mayoral is remembered by the nicknames “Pachico” and “the grandfather of the whales.” He was reputed to be the first person in the Baja coastal lagoon of San Ignacio to get close enough to touch a whale.

In the mid-1990s, Mayoral tipped off environmentalists to a joint plan by Mexican and Japanese commercial interests to build a salt-processing facility that Dedina said would have devastated the lagoon, an important whale breeding ground. Under heavy pressure, Mexico’s government canceled plans for the salt plant in 2000.

“What characterized his life was his love for the whales,” said environmentalist Homero Aridjis, who helped lead the battle against the salt plant.

Whale watching has become a popular tourist attraction along the Baja coast, and the lagoon is now a protected area.

Mayoral’s son Ranulfo said the family plans to bury him in San Ignacio, near the lagoon he loved and where he lived much of his life in a humble, sand-floored fisherman’s shack.

He is survived by four sons and two daughters, some of whom still lead whale-watching tours.

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