THE GENTLE GIANTS ARE BACK!
December 26th, 2009
The most delightful phenomenon of nature is happening again – the migration of hundreds of whales from the waters of the arctic to the warm, calm waters surrounding the Baja Peninsula. From January - March, there is no better place to view such a spectacular event than Baja California Sur.
Baja is well known as a great place to whale watch. The Peninsula is home to several different types of whales, including the California Gray whale and the Finback whale. While the California Grays are just visiting for short periods of time along the west coast, the Finbacks are full-time residents in the Sea of Cortez. Both breeds are a spectacle to behold and a true natural treasure.
The whale that seems to get everyone most excited in Baja is the California Gray whale. After being hunted to near extinction at the turn of the century for their blubber and oil, these gentle giants have grown in population to about 23,000 today. Debate about removing the California Gray from the "Endangered Species" designation and an increased level of awareness of the plight of these mammals is proof that mankind can indeed turn around an almost tragic situation.
Gray whales, massive barnacle-encrusted mammals about the same weight and length as a large school bus, swim nearly 12,000 miles each year, spending summers feeding in the rich waters near Alaska and winters raising calves in four lagoons on Baja California's Pacific coast. The whale known as Eschrichtius Robustus fuels both the local whale-watching industry as well as small ecotourism camps in coastal Baja.
But the gray whales are changing, and scientists studying them in Laguna San Ignacio say they believe climate change is responsible for causing a subtle shift at the base of the Arctic food chain that has magnified as it has rippled upward, forcing the whales to switch their feeding and migration patterns.
Here along the lagoon's shores, the shift highlights nature's delicate balancing act and the potential threat the warming climate poses thousands of miles away from the Arctic, where some of climate change's most profound effects are being felt.
"It’s all connected," says Sergio Gonzalez, a graduate student from the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur studying the lagoon's whale population. "If you affect something up there, you affect it down here. We are watching a lot of skinny whales here."
While the connection to climate change hasn't been definitively proven and researchers don't fear for the whale's survival, its migration habits are changing, and the effects are being felt around the lagoon's shores"
The three main lagoons these whales return to every year are (from north to south) Laguna Ojo de Liebre about half way down the Peninsula, Laguna San Ignacio about 100 miles further south, and Bahia Magdalena, which stretches about 100 miles from the northern end to the southern end below Laguna San Ignacio. All three areas still offer an excellent venue for whale watching up close and personal, and stories of close encounters and whale "petting" are becoming increasingly common.
Don’t miss our whale watching tours to the beautiful Bahia Magdalena from Los Barriles!
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