A gray whale off the coast of Mexico. A gray whale off the coast of Mexico.

Whale numbers down in Baja California

Gray whales are traveling farther south for warmer waters

Fewer gray whales are returning to the Vizcaino biosphere reserve in Baja California as a result of climate change, according to experts.

Mexican specialists dedicated to studying the behavior of the large cetaceans have detected that the animals have been traveling farther south than usual, seeking warmer waters.

They explained that the lower-than-usual surface water temperature in the breeding waters off the municipality of Mulegé this season was caused by changing oceanic conditions.

A researcher from the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur told the newspaper El Universal that up until the latest tally on January 16, 347 whales had arrived at the Ojo de Liebre lagoon, a 40% decrease compared to the same period last year, when 584 whales had already been spotted.

In the San Ignacio lagoon, continued Jorge Urbán, the decline was more pronounced: by January 19 only 39 whales had been counted, down 63% from last year’s 107.

Conversely, the number of whales sighted this year off the southern Comondú municipality was 67, similar to 2016.

“These shifts in the distribution of gray whales are a response of the oceanographic phenomena of El Niño and La Niña, during which the surface temperature of the ocean’s water increases and decreases, respectively,” said Urbán.

When those temperatures are higher, whales are found farther north, but when the temperature drops, like now, they move to southern waters, said the researcher affiliated with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

But the long-term effects of climate change on the routes followed by the whales are a source of concern for the tourist industry in the region.

Data kept by the biosphere reserve indicate that on average 10,000 tourists visit the region during whale-watching season, bringing an economic spill-over of US $2 million.

Source: El Universal (sp)

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