Exciting news: Your next trip to see the the Great Gray Whales of Baja will help directly fund whale research and conservation efforts in San Ignacio Lagoon!

This unique marine ecosystem is located in the Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the late 1990s, the area came under serious threat from a proposed salt production facility that would have permanently altered the gray whales’ habitat. Fortunately, the proposal was shot down, and the community has come together in support of sustainable tourism that highlights the beautiful marine life of this biosphere reserve.

Since in 2019, Nat Hab Philanthropy donates $500 directly to Laguna San Ignacio Ecosystem Science Program for each group of our travelers that visits the great gray whales of San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja California Sur. The nonprofit uses these donations to conduct studies on whale behavior and conservation methods.

A gray whale breaching in Baja, Mexico.

A breaching gray whale.

Laguna San Ignacio Ecosystem Science Program

Research and Presentations

The LSIESP team is making significant strides in gray whale research. In addition to keeping an official record of the number of gray whales in San Ignacio Lagoon each year, three of LSIESP’s papers have been accepted for presentation at the World Marine Mammal Conference in Barcelona, Spain. Funds from Nat Hab have helped scientists and students conduct their research and attend the conference.

“This is great news and a wonderful opportunity for our researchers to be recognized in the international marine mammal scientific arena, and to meet and network with like-minded researchers that attend,” said Dr. Steven Swartz, LSIESP’s program co-director and senior scientist.

A gray whale with her calf in Baja, Mexico

A gray whale with her calf.

Monitoring Gray Whale Mortality

Swartz also shared details of a drone-based project that seeks to understand the underlying causes and ramifications of the Unusual Mortality Event of 2019, which saw Northeastern Pacific gray whale numbers drop:

A gray whale in Baja, Mexico

Warmer-than-normal sea temperatures in the North Pacific/Gulf of Alaska and along the west coast of North America have persisted from 2015 to the present. This temperature anomaly is disrupting the normal seasonal cycle of primary production during the spring and summer months in the high latitudes where gray whales and other marine life feed. Gray whales depend on the summer abundance of prey to obtain sufficient energy to survive their spring migrations to and from their winter breeding and calving areas.

Our observation in the breeding lagoons during the 2018 and 2019 breeding seasons included increased percentages of skinny gray whales and low calf production and increased mortalities during migration, which suggest that finding sufficient food over the summer is becoming a problem for gray whales.

LSIESP researchers will continue to monitor the whales’ abundance and calf births during the winter months in the Baja lagoons and have implemented new research methods to document and evaluate the body and breeding condition of gray whales. UAV-drones with HD-video allow our researchers to obtain photogrammetric images to document the health of whales, their length and girth and overall body condition. From photos of the same individuals obtained over the winter, they calculate the rate of weight loss for lactating females and the growth rates of newborn calves.

Over time, this data will allow the evaluation of trends in gray whale health and growth during the winter following their summer feeding in the North Pacific and the Arctic. Comparison of the drone photographs [each] winter will provide information on the extent of the effect of the Unusual Mortality Event on gray whales, the extent of calf decline, and if the decline in gray whale body size and reproductive conditions is continuing.”

Scientists studying gray whales in Baja, Mexico.

Nat Hab Philanthropy—Supporting Science and Conservation

The nonprofit’s numerous gray whale conservation projects stood out as very much aligning with our mission here at Nat Hab, where we seek to inspire conservation through exploration and education. We are thrilled to help further the work of scientists and student researchers who are playing a vital role in protecting the whales found in this important marine sanctuary.

Want to learn more about these gentle giants for yourself? Encounter these massive cetaceans in the company of expert naturalist guides on a Great Gray Whales of Baja expedition.

Scientists on a boat observe a gray whale in Baja, Mexico