New peril for gray whale survival? Predatory orcas spotted in Baja calving lagoon
There’s a new threat to gray whale populations in the Mexican Baja: orcas. The mammals were the subject of an environmental impact assessment report released in January by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Orcas—big predatory mammals that use their tusks to subdue their prey—were also listed as an “immediate” threat, meaning they’re likely to become more frequent in Baja waters because of ongoing habitat degradation.
The report also warned that gray whales and their prey are highly mobile, and, once they’re in Baja, they can swim for thousands of miles. They spend some time off the coast of Baja and also in the Caribbean Sea.
“The population in the Pacific and the east coast of the U.S. is robust and in good shape,” said Lisa-Rose McKeown, NOAA marine mammal scientist in Washington, D.C., who led the assessment of gray whale protections for the Baja California, Mexico region, based at the marine laboratory of NOAA in San Diego. “That’s no longer the case for the Baja California coast.”
Baja California is a Mexican state that encompasses the Pacific coast from the mouth of the Sea of Cortez in Baja California to San Quintin on the island of Baja California Sur.
McKeown said that the most drastic declines in the population of gray whales have occurred in the Pacific coast of Baja California. The report says that these declines have been caused by an increase in the intensity of fishing operations, commercial and subsistence, which has led to a decline in the gray whale prey, their baleen—scales of animal protein that are found exclusively in the whales’ mouths and are essential to their nutrition.