Delayed Gray Whale
Migration Raising More Alarms
By Michael Christie
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A Mexican environmental group said Thursday they were alarmed by the lack of migrating gray whales and feared world climate changes could be jeopardizing the survival of the giant mammals.
The "Grupo de los Cien" (Group of One Hundred) ecological body said only a third -- around 10 -- of the usual number of gray whales had turned up at their winter sanctuary off the coast of Mexico's Baja California peninsula.
"One gray whale arrived on Nov. 7 and since then hardly any. The first whale was very early and the others are very late," said Homero Aridjis, the poet and ecologist who heads the Group of One Hundred.
Aridjis said global warming could be the culprit, noting that last year was the warmest year on record for the world's oceans.
"There has been an undeniable change in the global climate and it's possible this has had an impact on the migratory patterns of the whales," Aridjis told Reuters.
Every winter, gray whales migrate 6,200 miles from the freezing Arctic Ocean to warmer sanctuaries in Baja California Sur's San Ignacio lagoon in northwestern Mexico and the surrounding El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve, one of the largest wildlife refuges in Latin America.
The first usually arrive in December and remain for about four months, breeding and feeding. But that seems to have changed this year for reasons environmentalists said were unclear, but probably related to climate change.
Bruce Mate, an expert in marine mammals, said in a statement from the Group of One Hundred that "we have never seen the migration begin so late."
At the end of December, a team led by Mate flew over the coastline of Oregon in the Pacific Northwest without sighting a single whale. The statement said scientific teams monitoring the coast of Washington state also observed the same phenomenon.
At the same time, the Group of One Hundred said Alaskan newspapers reported hundreds of whales off the coast of the Kodiak Archipelago, which was "very abnormal" for this time of year.
Hunted to the brink of extinction by the 1940s, gray whales now have recovered to number an estimated 24,000, experts said.
But Aridjis said "alarming" changes to the environment were occurring in the seas through which the whales swim. In the Bering Sea, for example, he said investigators had reported deaths of marine animals and unusually high amounts of algae.
He added that North American salmon populations were falling sharply while their migration patterns also appeared to be changing.
Mexican television broadcaster Televisa reported Wednesday that whales had been sighted off the Mexican Pacific tourist resort of Acapulco, believed to be the first time whales had traveled so far south.
Aridjis said the whales had been too far away to identify the species and it was not known whether they were gray whales.