Unusual Mortality in Gray Whales
By Anna Sanchez, marine biologist and guide at Cabo Trek
In the late 19th Century, gray whales were hunted to the point of near extinction. The have used lagoons in Baja California Sur for centuries, for both mating and birthing. The lagoons are remote and provide a protected area for the gray whale to reproduce. In March, they start to prepare for the long journey back to the Arctic.
Tourists from all over the world come to the Baja lagoons so they can take part in a miracle – touching fully grown gray whales and their calves. A truly mind-boggling experience, these whales are so friendly. They come up to the boats and roll over on their backs so people can scratch their great stomachs.
Their discovery means more than 73 grey whales have been found beached and dead on U.S. and Mexico this year, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Grey whales are currently migrating from their wintering waters near Mexico along the coast up to Alaska, and as they've travelled along their route, more and more carcasses have been washing up on beaches. Dead whales recently examined by the NOAA have been found to be malnourished and emaciated.
Grey whales feed on small crustaceans that live in sediment on the ocean floor, which brings them closer to shore than other types of whales. Their proximity to land means they are more likely to wash ashore and for their deaths to be noted.
This year were found many skinny whale sightings in comparation with previous years and a weird behavior of going inside the marinas and searching for food. Researchers are taking qualitative data out from well-photographed whales as an indicator of their body condition to analyze this critical situation.
It looks like they didn't get enough food last summer and they are just not able to make it all the way to Alaska. There is no direct evidence yet, but it's particularly concerning with the changes in the Arctic ecosystem. Anomalous oceanic conditions have contributed to shifting food sources and cascading extinctions caused by over-fishing, climate change and pollution.
The whales can grow up to 45-feet long and weigh as much as 90,000 pounds. They were once in danger of extinction. The population has grown to about 26,000 and they were taken off the Endangered Species List in 1994.
Mexico is the only place in the world that this species reproduces and has the docile and curious behavior of approaching the boats. Whales are an indicator species for the health of the oceans. It is necessary to take care of the health of our oceans in order to guarantee future generations the privilege of coexisting with these animals.