Grey whales missing from Pacific – 11/06/2006

  • November 25, 2013 at 4:10 am #1335

    Grey Whales Missing from North Pacific Feeding Grounds
    Earthwatch volunteers to investigate feeding behavior off Baja,
    Mexico this winter.

    Dr. William MegillEarthwatch Institute, Maynard, MA, 20 October
    2006 — Finding one thirty-ton animal in the vast North Pacific may
    be as hard as finding a needle in a haystack. But when the entire
    estimated population of 17,000 grey whales is hard to find, it is
    cause for concern. Researchers reported very few sightings in the
    grey whales’ traditional summer feeding grounds last season.
    Earthwatch teams are invited to join Dr. William Megill (University
    of Bath) as he explores the impact on these whales at the southern
    end of their migration, in Baja California, Mexico.

    “We’ve just come off a second summer in Canada in which we’ve had
    next to no whales show up,” said Megill, principal investigator of
    Earthwatch-supported research on grey whales in both British
    Columbia and Baja California. “Not only in our little area, but
    apparently throughout the traditional feeding areas from Washington
    on up north. We have no idea where the whales all went this year.”

    Grey whales usually spend their summers feeding in the plankton-rich
    waters of the North Pacific, from northern California to the Bering
    and Chuckchi Seas. The whales migrate every winter to the warm
    lagoons off Baja California, where they breed and give birth to
    their calves. The extraordinary 6,000-mile exodus, one of nature’s
    great spectacles, is one of the longest mammal migrations known on

    Although they were the first great whales to be removed from the
    endangered species list, the future for grey whales is by no means
    certain. The fact that they have abandoned their traditional summer
    feeding grounds indicates to scientists that the whales may need to
    range further to find sufficient food.

    “Presumably they found other feeding areas, but they will have had
    to look hard. This suggests they may be quite lean this winter,
    particularly as this is now the second summer they’ve had to deal
    with this problem,” said Megill. “We know that the Bering Sea has
    taken a beating over the last ten years, and that productivity has
    plummeted there, forcing the whales into new habitat. A new blow to
    the productivity in these marginal habitats could hurt badly.”

    Since 2000, Earthwatch volunteers have helped support Megill’s grey
    whale research, both in British Columbia and Baja California. This
    winter, in January, February, and March, they will be paying special
    attention to feeding behaviors exhibited by the whales. Although
    grey whales historically have rarely been seen feeding on their
    winter breeding grounds, teams last year observed whales trying to
    feed from the lagoon bottom.

    “How much they were getting out of the mud they were sifting, I
    don’t know,” said Megill. “But there was a lot of it going on, more
    than I’m used to seeing. We’re expecting to see the animals feeding
    even more in Mexican waters this year. We’ll be heading out into the
    Pacific to see what the whales are doing offshore.”

    The research site for Earthwatch teams is Laguna San Ignacio, in one
    of Mexico’s most remote regions. This turquoise lagoon, surrounded
    by salt flats, mangrove forests, mesas, and desert, has been a
    sanctuary for breeding grey whales for centuries and is one of the
    most pristine breeding sites left. A UNESCO World Heritage Site,
    Laguna San Ignacio was the focus of a recent agreement between local
    landowners and a consortium of environmental groups to promote
    sustainable development in the area.

    Earthwatch Institute is a global volunteer organization that
    supports scientific field research by offering members of the public
    unique opportunities to work alongside leading field scientists and
    researchers. Earthwatch’s mission is to engage people worldwide in
    scientific field research and education to promote the understanding
    and action necessary for a sustainable environment. The year 2006
    marks Earthwatch’s 35th anniversary.

    Be sure to watch A Year on Earth, a two-part special to debut on
    Discovery Kids Channel on December 3 and 10. A Year on Earth
    chronicles the adventures of three American teens who join Megill in
    Baja California and several other Earthwatch research projects
    around the world. Together, they discover how ordinary people can
    make a difference in the most pressing environmental issues of our

    More information about Among Baja’s Grey Whales
    Press contact:
    Delta Willis

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