Evaluating the Impact of 2019 Gray Whale “Unusual Mortality Event”

LSIESP Researchers Prepare to Evaluate the Impact of the

2019 Unusual Mortality Event (UME) on

Gray Whales in the Breeding lagoons of Baja California Sur, Mexico

In May 2019 the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) announced that the elevated rate of gray whale strandings and mortalities  along the U.S. West Coast constituted and Unusual Mortality Event (UME). See NOAA announcement:

LSIESP researchers working in Laguna San Ignacio and Bahía Magdalena, Baja California Sur, Mexico detected indications an impending UME as early as 2018 and again in 2019: they documented declining calf counts, increasing percentages of “skinny” and “emaciated” whales, and the late arrival of the whales to the Baja lagoons.  Read 2019 LSIESP Annual Report and 2019 Gray Whale Abundance Report.

In winter 2020 LSIESP researchers will continue boat and photo-identification surveys to monitor gray whale arrivals at the lagoons, their abundance and number of calf births. UAV-Drones with HD-video will collect photogrammetric images to document the health of whales, including length and girth measurements,  and overall body condition. Photos of the same individuals obtained during the three month winter will allow estimation of weight loss for lactating females, the growth rates of newborn calves, and how many individuals survived the UME and returned to the lagoons. These data will allow evaluation of gray whale health and growth during the winter months, and indicate whether the whales are finding sufficient resources on their North Pacific and Arctic feeding areas

Help us to ensure gray whale research and monitoring continues in the lagoons

Now more than ever there is a need to continue monitoring gray whales during the winter in the Baja lagoons. Determining the impact of the UME and documenting recovery of the whales will require gathering as much information as possible during the coming winter in 2020 to understand and hopefully identify environmental and other factors that may have contributed to the UME.

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