50 Gray Whales Die Along
Mexican Coast - Most
Ever Recorded
By Caroline Brothers
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Fifty gray whales have died along Mexico's coast this year during the breeding season, the most ever recorded, ecologists said Friday.
"It is the highest number we have had," said Homero Aridjis, whose "Group of 100" cited figures from the Regional Center for Fishing Investigation in Baja California Sur state.
Aridjis, poet and president of the environmental group, told Reuters that they were demanding a government investigation into why the death toll among gray whales has been steadily increasing in recent weeks.
The figure of 50 dead is higher than any government tally, although Aridjis said Mexico's government failed to publish annual mortality figures in any systematic way.
The whales migrate some 6,200 miles from the icy Bering Sea to a handful of warm water lagoons off the Baja California peninsula in northwestern Mexico where they breed and give birth.
On Friday the Group of 100, which was founded in 1985 and includes luminaries like writers Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Carlos Fuentes, quoted the fishing research center as saying that 21 of the dead whales perished in two lagoons where a Japanese-Mexican saltworks operates.
Another 10 whales died further south, at Magdalena Bay, and three in the pristine San Ignacio Lagoon, where more than half the whale calves are born, the Group of 100 said in a statement.
Sixteen more died in two areas along the state's Pacific Coast.
Officials in Mexico have so far given no conclusive explanation for the deaths. A lack of consistent records has hurt efforts to assess how far the mortality rate is above normal.
The Group of 100 said it feared negligence at the ESSA saltworks, which is 49 percent owned by Mitsubishi Corp. and 51 percent owned by the Mexican government.
Environmentalists also have blamed the company for significant die-offs of endangered sea turtles, but the company has consistently said it was harmless to wildlife and had been unfairly targeted.
"We are demanding an immediate investigation at the ESSA installations to establish whether the cause of death of the 21 whales was due to environmental negligence," the Group of 100 said.
Over the past weeks officials have proposed a number of reasons for the deaths. They include natural causes, a lack of food, bacteria and drug traffickers' use of Natural Killer 19 (NK-19), a fluorescent chemical containing deadly cyanide used to flag spots in the sea for aircraft to drop drug cargoes.
"We're asking for the results of the autopsies, and for the results to be made public," Aridjis said.