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Gray Whale Migration To Mexico Seeking Warmer Waters

11/30/2011 01:17 PM ET

Gray Whale Migration Mexico - In late fall, the California gray whale passes south along the California shoreline to the warm waters of the Sea of Cortez and the lagoons of Baja California, Mexico. 

Leaving the rich feeding grounds of the Bering and Chukchi seas off Alaska, these baleen whales travel along the coastal margins traveling a distance of approximately 6000 miles to breed and give birth. This round trip of 10,000 to 14,000 miles is considered among the longest annual migration of any mammal.  Frequently these whales can be seen from the shoreline with great viewing site off the Point Reyes National Seashore or off Point Montara to the south.

The whale is considered a conservation success story because protections instituted in the early 1930′s have allowed populations to rebound from possibly less than 1000 individuals. The population of gray whales is currently between 20,000 and 22,000. 

Gray whales are opportunists, and this opportunism of feeding, migrations and non-migration may have helped the survival of the species. 

At the time around the American Civil War, the gray whale population was dramatically reduced by hunting in the lagoons.  They where especially vulnerable because of their coastal navigation, and exposure in what became called the “whaling lagoons,” the eastern Pacific gray whale population dwindled. Over 150 years ago, whalers like Charles Scammon slaughtered whales with abandon like fish in a barrel until the lagoons were described as vacant. 

Today, whale watch tours take tourists onto the Mexican lagoons to watch hundreds of these gentle whales. The old pier on Guererro Negro Lagoon still serves as a prime viewing ground.

From Mexico to Canada, whalers hunted the California mammal. In fact, a whaling station operated in the San Francisco Bay near Point Molate in Richmond to hunt and process gray whales.

A sister population in the North Atlantic was pushed to extinction and a remnant population of a few hundred individuals lives further west in the Sea of Okhotsk and near Korea.  After less than 75 years of systematic whaling the Eastern Pacific gray whale population had been reduced to numbers endangering their survival as a species. The gray whale was given partial protection in 1937 and full protection in 1947 by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

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