It appears that more cow/calf pairs of gray whales are headed for Southern California waters on their northbound journey back to Alaska. In the longest mammalian migration known to man, 8,500- 12,500 miles, the leviathans are now departing the lagoons of Baja California and headed back to the nutrient rich Bering Sea.
According to Mexico's Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources, a record-setting number of gray whales were born in Mexican waters this year. Mexican authorities have counted 1,198 whale calves and 523 adults, a dramatic upsurge from the 599 counted in 2011 and the 183 counted in 2010.
The whale count is the highest it has been since 1996, when a total of 2,721 gray whales were counted by environmental authorities. Between 2007 and February of 2012, over 3,000 gray whales have been born in the warm water lagoons of Baja California. “"We're talking about 3,553 gray whales which have appeared here,” said Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada, Mexican Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources.
In the 1880s and again in the early 1900s, whalers in Mexico hunted the gray whale to the brink of extinction. Early whalers called the gray whale the “devilfish” because of its reputation for a fierce battle and overturning boats when attacked. In the 1930’s, the gray whale became protected and in the 70’s, the gray was listed as endangered.
Today, Mexico protects the gray whales in its Baja Lagoons. “This is the product of a 20-year policy. All of Mexico's sanctuaries and territorial waters are good for the whales. Mexico is working to recover the whale population on this side of the Pacific,” said Elvira Quesada.
Far from being called “devilfish”, many now call gray whales “friendlies” because of their penchant for approaching whale watchers and seeking human interaction.
The first wave of northbound whales passed by Southern California in March and continue to filter through and up the coast. Now, a second wave of these incredible creatures is making their way up the coast and should continue to delight Southern California whale watchers for weeks to come.
The northbound gray whales pass by some of the largest cities in the world. That brings with it some inherent dangers such as ship traffic. Another major obstacle for cow/calf pairs is predation from killer whales. Gray whales are an important food source for killer whale. One calf can feed up to 30 killer whales, serving as an important supplement to the orcas' more regular diet of sea lions and other smaller mammals.
Fishing nets are another obstacle in the gray whales migration. Photo's of Humpback whales for a recent government report found that over 1/2 of the whales had signs of injuries from fishing gear. Three gray whales have become entangled in fishing gear passing by Southern California this past month alone.
You can witness this dramatic life and death journey as these incredible animals pass by Southern California. It is an amazing journey that you can see in the wild and just a few minutes off our coast.