The Whales are Back in Baja

It is a magical time of year when the gray whales arrive in Baja.

IMG_6457Ballena gris con criaEvery year, gray whales set off on one of the longest migrations made by any mammal from their feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi Seas to their birthing grounds in Mexico. They come to Baja to spend about three months (February to April) enjoying the warm water lagoons along the peninsula’s coast to mate, give birth and raise their young. In the early 20th century, the gray whale population was hunted to near extinction in the very waters they visit yearly.

Thanks to ramped up protection efforts in Canada, the United States and México, the gray whale population has rebounded and is now over 25,000 strong.

There are only three lagoons in the world where gray whales give birth to their babies – Guerrero Negro, Ojo de Liebre and Laguna San Ignacio – and all three are in Baja!

The lagoons are protected from the strong waves and currents of the Pacific Ocean and are shallow – creating a perfect setting. Mothers can nurse their newly born calves, and the shallow water lagoons allow them to easily supervise while their calves learn to swim, surface for air, dive under and hunt for food, and practice interacting with other whales. Another advantage, the only predator of the gray whale, the orca, will not enter the lagoons’ shallow waters.

1CCK2669Turistas y ballena grisEach winter, visitors come to watch the whales in Baja, which is an experience much different than other places in the world. Whale watching in Baja is done in pangas (22 foot boats), which are open and accommodate up to ten people.

Small groups of boats head out into the bays, extinguish the motor and then wait. Minutes later you can see water and air shooting up from the middle of the bay from the whales blow holes.1CCK4018Ballena gris

Amazingly, the whales of Baja are extremely friendly, and often seek out the pangas full of tourists to greet them. The feeling you get from looking eye to eye with these friendly giants cannot be put into words – it is something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

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To help protect the whales of Baja, WILDCOAST has conserved, through conservation concessions, 483.6 miles of coastline surrounding the lagoons they rely on annually to reproduce and raise their young. Additionally, back in 2000 we helped defeat one of the world’s largest salt extraction facilities from destroying Laguna San Ignacio, and we are currently updating the management plan for the 6.3 million acre Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve which is home to all three whale breeding lagoons – San Ignacio, Ojo de Liebre and Guerrero Negro.

Get to know your neighbors: Bat rays!

I am a relative of the shark, look like a bat, and swim like a bird flies. I am the myliobatis californica, commonly known as the bat ray. I like to live a life of solitude, hidden in muddy, coastal bottoms or enjoying the bustling life of kelp beds and rocky-bottomed shorelines, from as north as Oregon and as south as Baja California. Although I don’t have menacing teeth like my shark cousins, I prefer to feast on crunchy food such as mollusks, crustaceans, and small bony fish. I use my flat, plate-like teeth to crush my snacks, but don’t worry, I don’t eat the bones, just the meat. My friends tell me I’m special because my eyes are on top of my head but my mouth is on the underside of my body! Therefore to find my dinner I pay special attention to water currents as well as jets of water, and I can detect electrical signals! When I think I’ve found a snack I flap my wings as hard as I can and use my snout to get my food into my mouth.

One of my defining features is my self-defense armor: my stinger. I’ve had my stinger since birth, but it was wrapped in a protective covering. My mom told me that I looked like a rolled taco as a newborn because my wings were wrapped around my body in a fan favorite Mexican food fashion. But hours later I was flapping all over the place and the protective covering on my stinger had come off, so I had instant protection. This came in great handy because I had to go off to find my own food and become independent almost immediately, only depending on my mom for minimal protection for the first few years of my life.

Why should humans care about me?

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The Wildlife of Valle de los Cirios

Last May, WILDCOAST staff and interns took a trip to our private wilderness reserve, the Valle de los Cirios Natural Protected Area. In addition to surveying the protected properties, biological information was collected with “game-cams”. The cameras were installed last year and have been an efficient tool used to document the presence of wild animals while not disturbing their behavior or damaging their habitat.

The “game-cams” are activated by motion detection and have allowed us to photograph several species that inhabit the area such as coyotes (Canis latrans), bobcats (Lynx rufus),  mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos), brush rabbit (Sylvilagus bachmani) and hares.

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Gray Whale Season in Baja was a Huge Success

Each year gray whales travel over 10,000 miles round trip between their nursery lagoons in Baja California Sur, Mexico, to their feeding grounds in the Arctic. This is one of the longest migrations of any mammal in the world.

During the 2016-2017 season, our partners at Mexico’s National Commission for Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) counted 1521 whales in the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve, including 601 calves and 920 adult whales.  If you’re lucky, you might be able to see a few of them on their way back north to their summer homes in Alaska!.

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Help Save Our Valuable Wetlands!

Coastal lagoon, Cabo Pulmo National Park, Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California), Mexico, November

Wetlands are ecosystems that are partially or permanently flooded with fresh, saline or brackish water. They provide us with a number of important services such as sources for food and water security, as well as for adaptation and mitigation for the impacts of climate change.

Wetlands act as natural sponges, absorbing and storing excess water and thus reducing flooding caused by rain, storms, hurricanes, or tsunamis. During the dry season they release stored water, delaying the onset of droughts and reducing water shortages.


Its great economic importance is also due to its high productivity and biological diversity. Wetlands provide a refuge and nursery habitat to many marine species, especially migratory birds. [Read more…]

Saving Gray Whales and Responsible Whale Watching in Baja California

Photo by Eddie Kisfaludy

Photo by Eddie Kisfaludy

Gray whales have arrived in Baja California! Every winter these marine mammals visit the lagoons of Ojo de Liebre, San Ignacio and Bahía Magdalena to reproduce and give birth. Over the past 15 years, WILDCOAST has worked diligently to conserve gray whale habitat, train local whale watching guides in proper management techniques, and even help boat operators obtain less polluting outboard engines for their skiffs.

During their stay in the lagoons of the Baja California peninsula, whales are visited by thousands of tourists each year that want to get a glimpse of this majestic leviathans up close. Unfortunately, sometimes the desire to get close to whales, can sometimes stress the animals.

Therefore, in response to the growth of whale watching in Baja and in an effort to reduce impacts to these marine mammals, the Mexican government stablished strong whale watching guidelines (NOM- 131-SEMARNAT-2010). These guidelines are not only to regulate sightings, but to also promote the conservation of whale species, including the gray whale.

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Mexico Safeguards Vast Stretches of Coast, Deep Ocean

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Image by Octavio Aburto

CANCUN, Mexico, December 5, 2016 (ENS) – Much of Mexico’s Caribbean coast, Baja coast and deep ocean are to become protected areas, President Enrique Peña Nieto announced Monday at the opening of the 13th Conference of the Parties (COP 13) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity being held in Cancun this week and next.

The President signed a decree creating three new marine biosphere reserves, on the occasion of hosting COP13. Ministers and delegates from over 190 countries are attending the conference.

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Mexican President Peña Nieto Establishes New 2.7 Million-Acre Baja Pacific Islands Reserve

Coronado Islands, offshore of the US-MEXICO border, Pacific Ocean, Baja California, Mexico

Coronado Islands, offshore of the US-MEXICO border, Pacific Ocean, Baja California, Mexico. Photo by Ralph Lee Hopkins

Ensenada, Mexico. December 5, 2016. The President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, today established the 2.7 million acre Islands of the Pacific Biosphere Reserve just offshore of the Pacific Coast of the Baja California Peninsula. This new federal reserve includes 21 islands that are often referred to as the “Galapagos of Mexico” and protects the marine areas around the islands that are habitat for marine mammals, seabirds, and commercially valuable species of fish and shellfish.

“The Islands of the Pacific Biosphere Reserve, that includes the Coronado and Todos Santos Islands off of Tijuana and Ensenada and just south of San Diego, provide habitat for a variety of species that do not exist in any other part of the world,” said Dr. Serge Dedina, Executive Director of WILDCOAST. “In total, this new reserve is home to 50 percent more endemic species of vertebrates and plants per unit of surface area than the Galápagos Islands.”

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Mining for Blue Carbon in the Mangroves of Baja’s Magdalena Bay

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Last week, a WILDCOAST team traveled to Puerto San Carlos in the community of Magdalena Bay. After three hours on the road surrounded by nothing other than cardon cacti, we arrived at our destination.  As you enter Puerto San Carlos, you are welcomed by a sea of mangroves that surround the community, and you are instantly wowed.

Magdalena Bay is the largest wetland in Baja California and provides habitat for some of most pristine and biologically important mangroves in the world. Research has shown that coastal desert mangroves store up to five times more carbon than tropical mangroves. 

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Don Diego Mining Project REJECTED!

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VICTORY! The Don Diego underwater mine project proposed for seabed near Magdalena Bay and San Juanico was rejected this morning by Mexico’s Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT). The project, which intended to dredge 224,866 acres of sea bed for 50 years off of Baja California Sur’s Pacific Coastline, was denied due to the negative impact it would have on marine wildlife including endangered loggerhead sea turtles and gray whales.

The project was heavily criticized by fishermen, NGOs, and even state and local agencies due to its environmental impacts and the irreversible damage it would have on some of the most productive fisheries in Mexico .

We would like to thank SEMARNAT for a very public process and for making the right decision to protect Mexico’s coastal resources!

Photo by Claudio Contreras/WILDCOAST