Meet the Team

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Co-Director and Founder

Jorge is a graduate of National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). He is a Professor of marine biology at the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur (UABCS), La Paz, B.C.S., where he directs the “Research Project on Marine Mammals” (PRIMMA). Jorge has led gray whale and other cetacean research programs in Baja California since 1996. He has widely published in the scientific literature on marine mammals and marine conservation, and serves on the IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group, the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission, and is a past President of the Mexican Society for Marine Mammalogy (SOMEMMA).

Co-Director and Founder

Steven is a 1986 graduate of the University of California at Santa Cruz and has researched and published widely on gray whales and their breeding lagoons in Baja California. He served as a consultant to the Mexican government’s Ministry for the Environment, Natural Resources, and Fisheries (SEMARNAP), and worked for the Ocean Conservancy (previously the Center for Environmental Education), the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, and the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service.

Mary Lou is a 1985 graduate San Jose State University, Moss Landing Marine Laboratory. In addition to conducting the first systematic studies of gray whales in Laguna San Ignacio, Mary Lou undertook the first bathymetric studies of Laguna San Ignacio, the first multi-year evaluation of the potential impact of whale-watching activities on gray whales in the lagoon, and published the first estimate of gray whale calving interval based on photographic identification data. Her research on gray whales and other marine topics has appeared in numerous publications including the scientific journal of the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee, the National Geographic Society, and the Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals. She was the lead editor and contributor to the 1984 “Gray Whale” book published by Academic Press.

Alejandro received his Ph.D. in 2012. He is on the teaching faculty of, and is Director of the Department of Marine Sciences at the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur (UABCS), in La Paz, B.C.S, Mexico. His research and teaching interests include vertebrate anatomy, marine ecology, and the interactions between whale and human activities. He is a Past-President of the Mexican Society for Marine Mammalogy (SOMEMMA), and a founding member of the LSIESP.

Field Director “Laboratorio de Investigación de Laguna San Ignacio Francisco ‘Pachico’ Mayoral, 24 febrero 2015” at Laguna San Ignacio

Sergio received his Master’s degree in Marine Science Student at the Autonomus University of Baja California Sur (UABCS) in La Paz, B.C.S. He made his Master’s and bachelor thesis on Humpback whale population assessment and recovery rates in México. Sergio is the LSIESP Field Research Chief and leads the gray whale photographic identification program at Laguna San Ignacio, where has conducted research on gray whales since 2009. In 2016 he completed his Ph.D. at UABCS.

Gray Whale Research Leader in Bahía Magdalena

Lorena obtained her doctorate at the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur (UABCS). Since 2010 she has worked as a researcher with the Marine Mammal Research Program (PRIMMA) of the UABCS. Her research interests include acoustics, genetics, as well as marine pollution and effects on marine mammals. Beginning in 2018 she leads the gray whale research team in Bahía Magdalena.

Marine Mammal Researcher

Tabata is a member of the Marina Mammal Research Program at the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur and graduate student in Marine Biology at the same institution. She has worked with the gray whale research team in Laguna San Ignacio since the 2010 season. Her bachelor thesis is about the “Feeding habits of Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera edeni) in the Gulf of California.” Currently she is pursuing her Master’s degree at the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur, and her thesis is on the “Abundance of microplastics in La Paz Bay (Gulf of California) and phthalates levels in fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus).” In recent years Tabata has translated information for the LSIESP Website and our publications.

Project Collaborator

Ranulfo is a resident of Laguna San Ignacio where he was born and lives today with his family at the lagoon. He is a researcher with the Grupo Tortuguero and conducted sea turtle monitoring in the lagoon since 2000. Beginning in 2010, Ranulfo has documented the establishment of a permanent colony of California sealions on the islands within Laguna San Igancio in recent years. He is a “RARE” trained natural history guide with advanced first aid training and SECTUR certification. During the winter months Ranulfo works as an Eco-Tourism guide at the lagoon.

Project Collaborator

Aaron Thode, Ph.D.: a professor of marine science and ocean acoustics at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California. His broad research interests include the physics of acoustic energy in the ocean, the acoustic behavior of marine animals, the detection and enumeration of marine animals like whales using passive acoustic techniques, and the effects of anthropogenic noise on marine life.

Project Collaborators

Dr. Fredrik Christiansen and his students from Murdoch University, Murdoch, Western Australia are collaborating with LSIESP researchers to use UAV-drones equipped with HD-digital video cameras to obtain high resolution photographs of gray whale females and their calves. These photos are used to estimate calf growth rates and the measure the decrease in girth of lactating females over the winter. From these measurements the amount of body fat converted into mother’s milk for the calves, and the increase in mass of the growing calves are estimated as a measure of energy transfer efficiency from mother-to-calf.

Dr. Lars Bejder and his research associates from the University of Hawaii worked with LSIESP-UABCS researchers to attach with suction cups “digital acoustic recording tags” or “D-Tags” to gray to whales to monitor fine-scale movement in three dimensions, vocal behavior and calf suckling rates. This information provides estimates of resting, traveling, and nursing times for gray whales, and contribute to our understanding of the bio-energetics of the whales, and their use of the Laguna San Ignacio habitat.  With this baseline information it will be possible to detect changes in the suckling rates of gray whale calves,  and to evaluate how calf suckling and growth might be affected by climate factors and human activities.

 

Project Collaborator

Dr. Celine Godard-Codding and her students from Texas Tec University, Lubbock, Texas, with assistance from LSIESP researchers collect samples of exhaled respirations from whale “blows” to obtain samples of organic steroid hormones from the whales. The goal is to assess whether the fitness information provided by the analysis of stress hormones and reproductive hormones correspond to predictions regarding pregnancy and health obtained from the photogrammetric “Drone” data and the “D-tag” data. This innovative research will provide an additional comparative method for evaluating gray whale health, reproductive condition, and for identifying biochemical indicators of stress (e.g., cortisols).

The 2018 research teams for the Laguna San Ignacio Ecosystem Science Program (LSIESP) and the Programa de Investigación de Mamíferos Marinos (PRIMMA) at the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur, La Paz, B.C.S., México were directed by Drs. Jorge Urbán R., Steven Swartz, Alejandro Gómez-Gallardo U., Sergio Martínez Aguilar (Laguna San Ignacio), and Lorena Viloria Gómora (Bahía Magdalena).  Gray whale field researchers included:  at Laguna San Ignacio, Natalia Serna, Raquel Soley, Edson Alberto Hernández López, Alin Alejanola Delgado Garcia, Daniela Benot, and UAV Drone pilots Fabien Vivier and Fabian Missael Rodríguez González ; and in Bahía Magdalena, Mariana Hidalgo Reza, Lizbeth Sánchez Eliseo, Yessica Cota Loera, Camilla Muñoz, Omar García Castañeda, and Jorge Acevedo.

Additional collaborating researchers included: The acoustics and behavior observation research led by Dr. Aaron Thode and Ludovic Tenorio-Hallé from Scripps Institute of Oceanography, La Jolla, California;

Dr. Fredrik Christiansen, of Murdoch University, Murdoch, Western Australia, Fabien Vivier and Fabian Missael Rodríguez González conducted the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV-Drones) aerial photogrammetry project to measure growth and body volume of female and calf whales to estimate body condition/health, and energy conversion/transfer from females to calves;

Dr. Lars Bejder and Aude Pacini from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Ohau, Hawaii, and Pernille Meyer Soerensen conducted the pilot study to use suction-cup attached digital-tags or “D-tags” to record fine-scale gray whale activity and movements in 3-dimentions, vocal behavior, and calf suckling rates to estimate resting, traveling, and nursing rates for gray whales; and

Dr. Celine Godard-Codding and her students from Texas Tec University, Lubbock, Texas collected exhaled respirations from gray whale “blows” to obtain samples of organic steroid hormones from the whales to evaluate gray whale health, reproductive condition, and identify biochemical indicators of stress (e.g., cortisols).

This 2018 research was supported by grants from The Ocean Foundation and The Whaleman Foundation, private individual doners, with in-kind support for logistics provided by Searcher Natural History Expeditions, Baja Discovery, and Kuyima Eco-Tourismo, Inc. Field research was conducted under Scientific Research permits issued by the Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT), Subsecretaría de Gestión Para La Protectión Ambiental, de México.

The 2017 research was directed by Drs. Jorge Urban R., Steven Swartz, Alejandro Gómez Gallardo, Sergio Martínez Aguilar (Laguna San Ignacio), and Hiram Rosales Nanduca (Bahía Magdalena).  Collaborating researchers include:  Dr. Aaron Thode and Ludovic Tenorio (Scripps Institute acoustic investigations); and Sr. Ranulfo Mayoral (sealion colonies in Laguna San Ignacio). At Laguna San Ignacio we welcomed returning researchers Eder Antonio Belmont Sánchez, Fabian Missael Rodríguez González, Carlos Alberto López Montalvo (UABCS), and new researchers Allyson Richins and Mauriel Rodriguez from the University of New Mexico. Student researchers in Bahía Magdalena included: Rocío González Ruelas, Omar Castañeda, Miwako Yokoo Guerrero, Vinnie Caicero García, Mariana Hidalgo Reza, and Lorena Viloria Gómora (UABCS). Dr. Daniel Galindo Espinosa (UABCS) assumes the leadership of the avian research project, and a former student of the late Dr. Rafael Riosmena Rodiguez, Dr. Juan Manuel Lopez Vivas will continue the research program on marine seagrass meadows in Laguna San Ignacio. Visiting researchers in 2017 included Dr. Fredrik Christiansen and Dr. Lars Bejder from Murdoch University, Murdoch, Western Australia, and Dr. Celine Godard-Codding, Mary Hayden, and Kia Hayes from Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas.

LSIESP’s research was conducted under scientific research permits No. SGPA/DGVS/01822/17 and No. SGPA/DGVS/02011/17 issued by the Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recoursos Naturales (SEMARNAT), Subsecretaría de Gestión Para La Protectión Ambiental.

The 2016 Laguna San Ignacio Ecosystem Science Program was directed by Drs. Jorge Urban R., Steven Swartz, Alejandro Gómez Gallardo (Laguna San Ignacio), and Hiram Rosales-Nanduca (Bahía Magdalena).  Collaborating researchers include:  Dr. Georgina Brabata (UABCS avian research); Dr. Aaron Thode (Scripps Institute acoustic investigations); Sr. Ranulfo Mayoral (sealion colonies in Laguna San Ignacio); and Dr. Sergio Martínez Aguilar (UABCS, Laguna San Ignacio Field Chief, and photographic identification program manager). We welcomed returning researchers Natalia Serna Urrea (Medellin, Colombia/UABCS), Carlos Alberto López Montalvo (UABCS), and Vinnie Caicero García (Mexico City/UABCS). New student researchers from UABCS included: In Laguna San Ignacio, Gabriela Noemi Salazar Sánchez, Eder Antonio Belmont Sánchez, and in BM, Liliana Paredes, Miwako Yokoo Guerrero, and Omar Castañeda also from UABCS. Our research program is conducted under scientific research permits issued by the Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recoursos Naturales (SEMARNAT) of Mexico. Desde nuestro corazón, gracias a todos.

The 2015 LSIESP was directed by Drs. Jorge Urban R., Steven Swartz, and Alejandro Gómez Gallardo. We welcomed Dr. Georgina Brabata from UABCS, who will lead the new avian research program. Dr. Aaron Thode from Scripps Institute continues to lead the acoustic investigations. Dr. Rafael Risomena  Rodiguezof UABCS continues to lead the marine botany research. Sr. Ranulfo Mayoral continues his investigations of the developing sealion colonies in the lagoon.

The gray whale research team at LSI was led by Sergio Martínez Aguilar and included Lizbeth Sánchez Eliseo, Carlos Alberto López Montalvo, Natalia Serna Urrea, Karen Cruz, and Kia Hayes. The gray whale surveys at Bahia Magdalena was led by Hiram Rosales Nanduca, and included Diana López Arzate, Raquel Arroyo Loranca, and Vinnie Caicero García.

The 2014 Gray Whale  Research Team was led by Steven Swartz from Darnestown Maryland, U.S.A., Jorge Urbán R. and Alejandro Gómez Gallardo from the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur, in La Paz, B.C.S., Mexico (UABCS). Senior field researcher Sergio Martinez A. (UABCS) served as Field Chief at the lagoon. Additional researchers included: Carlos Alberto López Montalvo (UABCS), Marina Hidalgo Reza (UNAM), Lizbeth Sanchez Eliseo (UABCS), and Ludovic Tenorio Hallé (Scripps Institution of Oceanography). The Acoustic Team included Aaron Thode and Kerri Seger (Scripps Institution of Oceanography).

The 2013 gray whale research Team in Laguna San Ignacio was led by Steven Swartz, and Jorge Urbán from the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur, La Paz, B.C.S. Mexico (UABCS), with Alejandro Gómez Gallardo U. (UABCS) as Research Coordinator, and Sergio Martinez A. (UABCS) as the senior field chief scientist. The Team included 5 university researchers: Sergio Martínez A., Jessica Robles M., and Carlos A. López M (UABCS), Constanza Torres V. (UNAM), and Paulette Duranzo R. (CECSE). The 2013 Bahía Magdalena gray whale photographic identification Team was led by Hiram Rosales Nanduca, and included university researchers Erandi Calderón-Yañéz, Lilia Alonso-Lozano, and Adriana del Aguila Vázquez all from UABCS. The Acoustic Research and Monitoring Team was let by Aaron Thode from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and included Kerri Seger (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), and Melania Guerrera (Cornell University).

The 2012 gray whale research team at Laguna San Ignacio included Sergio Martínez A., Diana López A., Tabata Olavarrieta G., Laura Rodriguez J., Mauricio Rodríguez A., from the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur (UABCS) in La Paz, B.C.S., Mexico, and LSIESP co-director Dr. Steven Swartz. Also assisting the team were Susana Tobar H., Flor Vázquez, Claudia Díaz, and Erandi Calderón Y.  A second team of researchers traveled to Bahia Magdalena to obtain photographic identification information on the whales in this aggregation area located south of Laguna San Ignacio. The Bahia Magdalena team was Dr. Hiram Rosales Nanduca, and included Jessica Robles M., and Lilia Alonso L.

The 2011 Gray Whale research and monitoring Team was led by Jorge Urbán (UABCS), Steven Swartz (CRA), and Alejandro Gòmez Guallardo U. (UABCS), and included six researchers and graduate students from universities in Mexico: Sergio Martínez (UABCS), Hiram Nanduca (UNAM), Anaid Lòpez Urbán (UNAM), Jessica  Robles Mercado (UABCS), Erandi Calderòn Yánez (UABCS), and Mauricio Rodríguez Alvarez (UABCS). The Acoustic Team was led by Aaron Thode and Delphine Matthias (SCRIPPS Institution of Oceanography) and included additional UCSD undergraduate and graduate students.

The 2010 gray whale Team was led by Steven Swartz (CRA), Jorge Urbán (UABCS), and Alejandro Gómez  Guallardo U. (UABCS), and included five researchers and graduate students from universities in Mexico and the United States: Sergio Martínez (UABCS), Hiram Nanduca (UNAM), Anaid Lopez Urbán (UNAM), Jessica Isadora R. (UABCS), Tabata Olavarrieta (UABCS), and John Symons (Lewis & Clark University). The Acoustic Team included Aaron Thode and Melania Guerra (SCRIPPS Institution of Oceanography) with several UCSD undergraduate and graduate students contributing additional help with the acoustic research.

The 2009 gray whale Team was led by Steven Swartz (CRA), Jorge Urbán (UABCS), and Alejandro Gómez  Guallardo U. (UABCS) and includes five researchers and graduate students from universities in Mexico: Sergio Martínez (UABCS), Hiram Nanduca (UNAM), Anaid Lopez Urbán (UNAM), Ana Liria Del Monte Madrigal (UABCS), Maurico Nájara Caballero (CICIMAR), and Héctor Pérez Puig (CICESE).

The 2008 gray whale monitoring and assessment program was led by UABCS researchers Steven Swartz, and Jorge Urban R. from La Paz, and the third winter of passive acoustic investigations in the lagoon led by Melania Guerrera and Aaron Thode of Scripps Institute of Oceanography, in San Diego. Graduate student-researchers included Anaid Lopez Urbán (UNAM), Angie Sremba, Sergio González C., Benjamín Troyo V., and Mauricio Nájera C. The Pacific Life Foundation and The Ocean Foundation provided financial support. Logistic support and field laboratory facilities were provided by Kuyima Eco-Tourismo, the Summer Tree Institute, and Searcher Natural History Tours. The project was conducted under the authorization of Mexican research permit No.00506 from the Subsecretaría de Gestión Para La Protección Ambiental, Dirección General de Vida Silvestre.

The 2007 gray whale monitoring and assessment program led by Steven L. Swartz, Jorge Urbán R., Alejandro Gómez-Gallardo U., with the assistance of graduate student-researchers Sergio González C., Benjamín Troyo V. and Mauricio Nájera C. We gratefully acknowledge of our volunteers Mariela Brito, Loana Mariam Lerch, Katia Galindo, Liliana Paredes, Margarita Aguliar, Klara Jansson for assisting with the field work during the 2007 winter season. The Pacific Life Foundation and The Ocean Foundation provided financial support. Logistic support and field laboratory facilities were provided by Kuyima Eco-Tourismo, the Summer Tree Institute, and Searcher Natural History Tours. The project was conducted under the authorization of Mexican research permit No.00506 from the Subsecretaría de Gestión Para La Protección Ambiental, Dirección General de Vida Silvestre.

The 2006 field studies of breeding gray whales in Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California Sur, México, were led by Dr. Steven L. Swartz from Maryland, U.S.A., Dr. Jorge Urbán Ramírez, M en C. Alejandro Gómez Gallardo, Biol. Mar. Sergio González Carrillo, Biol. Mar. Benjamín Troyo Vega and Biol. Mar. Mauricio Nájera Caballero from Autonomous University of Baja California Sur (UABCS), La Paz, B.C.S. Mexico. The 2005-2006 field research was supported by grants from NOAA Fisheries, Office of Protected Resources, Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program (F/PR2), the Pacific Life Foundation, and The Ocean Foundation.

The 1981 field studies of breeding gray whales in Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California Sur, México, were led by Mary Lou Jones and Steven L. Swartz from Maryland, U.S.A., with assistance from Mike Bursk, Mike Symons, Bob Dahlheim, Marylin Dahlheim, Marsha Frost, and Jim Sumich.  Support was provided by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the World Wildlife Fund U.S.A., the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, and the National Marine Fisheries Service Marine Mammal Laboratory. Research permit were provided by Mexico’s Department of Pesca.

Mary Lou Jones and Steven Swartz conducted the first systematic studies of gray whales in Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California Sur from 1977-1982. Dr. Jorge Urban R. resumed field studies of gray whales from 1996 to 2000, which continued sporadically until 2003. Recognizing the need for an ongoing science based monitoring program, these investigators collaborated in 2007 to initiate the “Laguna San Ignacio Ecosystem Science Program” (LSIESP). In 2007 they joined forces with the NGO Pro Peninsula Conservation Organization, and then in 2009 merged with The Ocean Foundation, a Washington D.C. based 501-C-3 non-profit environmental organization that serves as the fiscal agent for the LSIESP. Together they envisioned establishing a science based program that enlists and supports researchers and university students in marine science to monitor and research the ecological health of the lagoon, the surrounding wetlands, and the gray whales and the variety of marine wildlife that utilize this unique marine protected area. Mentors for the program included Raymond M. Gilmore, Laura and Carl Hubbs, and Robert J. Hoffman and John R. Twiss, Jr. of the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission. Initial funding for the program was provided by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), The San Diego Society of Natural History, and the World Wildlife Fund U.S. Research permits were provided by Mexico’s Department of Pesca.