Image: Capt. Dave's Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari/YouTube

Pacifiers are hard to come by in the Pacific Ocean, despite its name (and despite the presence of an ever-expanding Great Pacific Garbage Patch). But one baby gray whale recently found an even better alternative: a boat full of tourists.

Although gray whales don't have teeth, they do have big, plankton-filtering mouthparts known as baleen, which might cause teething-like pain as they grow in. That's what tour captain Dave Anderson thinks motivated the baby cetacean to approach his whale-watching boat near Baja California earlier this month, where a jubilant group of tourists responded by petting its skin and massaging the inside of its mouth.

"According to the naturalists who see them every day, these gray whale calves enjoy having people touch them, even in their mouth and on their baleen," Anderson explains in a description of the video posted on YouTube. "Even though these whales don't have teeth, perhaps it is like a teething child who enjoys having his gums rubbed."

The encounter took place in Magdalena Bay, off Mexico's west coast, during a tour led by California-based Capt. Dave's Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari. Gray whales endure a rigorous 10,000-mile yearly migration to the region from Alaska, often losing calves along the way to killer whales, aboriginal hunters and the growing threat of abandoned fishing gear. Yet despite such travails — not to mention the dark history of industrial whaling — the species is famously friendly with people, even with no lure of food.

"These gray whales come over here just to be petted," Anderson adds. "No one feeds them or does anything to entice them. They simply come over for the physical contact."

Check out the video below:

Like many of their baleen relatives, gray whales suffered major population losses in recent centuries due to whaling, but a series of legal protections beginning in the 1930s have since helped them recover in some places. The Eastern Pacific population was removed from the U.S. Endangered Species List in 1994, and today numbers between 18,000 and 30,000 individuals, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. The Western Pacific population, however, remains highly depleted and may number fewer than 100.

Related whale stories on MNN:

Russell McLendon ( @russmclendon ) writes about humans and other wildlife.

Baby whale uses people as pacifiers [Video]
A new video seems to show a young gray whale requesting human help rubbing its gums, possibly seeking comfort like a teething human baby.