2021 UPDATE: How long do gray whales stay in Laguna San Ignacio & Documenting annual gray whale migration routes
Photographic Identification (Photo-ID) is one of the most powerful and useful tools we use to document, research and understand gray whales that visit Laguna San Ignacio each winter. Fortunately, gray whales have distinctive marking on their skin that change little over time. They also acquire white scars from injuries, barnacles, and killer whale tooth “rake marks” which aid in the identification of individuals. These natural markings are permanent natural “tags” which stay with each whale throughout its life.
How Long do Gray Whales stay in Laguna San Ignacio each winter?
The number of days between the first and last photographic re-captures of whales within a winter provides an estimate of the minimum amount of time each whale stayed in the lagoon during that winter. Between 2005 and 2021 the average time between first and last photo re-capture single whales (females without calves and males) was 7.2 days, and 32 days for females with calves born each winter. These results suggest that breeding males and single females move around and between lagoon aggregations areas, never staying in one location for more than a few days. In contrast, females with young calves may also move within and among aggregation areas, but in Laguna San Ignacio they may stay a month or longer during a winter.
Using Photo-ID to Document Gray Whale Migrations
If photographs of gray whales from other portions of their geographic range are compared we can learn about the whale’s movements within the range. For example, in recent years photographs of gray whales taken during the summer in the western North Pacific off the coast of Russia were matched with gray whales in Baja California during the winter. These include males, females, and females with calves. This suggests that some of the gray whales from both the Eastern and the Western populations migrate together and perhaps may interbreed during the winter.
Photographic Identification Catalogs
The Laguna San Ignacio Ecosystem Science Program posts on its website Photo-ID catalogs of gray whales from Laguna San Ignacio, Bahía Magdalena and other areas in Baja California to make them available to other gray whale researchers for comparison with photographs taken at their research sites.
If you believe you have a photograph that matches a whale in our catalogs, please go to the “Contact Us” page on our website and send us an email. We will be able to confirm the match and provide information on the specific whale.
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