from Observation Post #2
Baja California, Mexico
News from the 2010 Season
Patrycja and Caroline Armon report:
27 Update: About 5 cow/calf pairs (about 10 whales) remain
in the lagoon. There were about 15 up till
farewell news from San Ignacio Lagoon:
We didn’t get the newest census yet but we think that we
still have only 20 pairs of cows and calves. We’ve
gotten to know a few of them
very well now. Recently we have been
having very nice close encounters with two babies:
baby we call Anaconda has a very nice
snake-like skin pattern on both sides of its body. This
baby boy seems very
interested in the engines of our boats. He always approaches
the boat from behind and plays with everyone on the boat.
He rolls over, shows his belly, looks at us with his big
eyes and lets us pet him. His mom is very patient and understanding
about his play and curiosity.
Machete is called that because of its big hump that looks
almost like a dorsal fin. It’s really unusual among
gray whales, which don’t have any dorsal fin at all.
Maybe the evolution is going this direction??
You Drink 50 Gallons of Milk in a Day?
still can see some other babies that are a
little bit smaller and younger, so they need some more time
to become more self-confident and curious. We have observed
when a mother rolls over to one side and lets the calf nudge
her mammary gland slits, causing the milk to be forcefully
ejected straight into its mouth. The babies are
now because they drink around 50 gallons of milk every day
in order to build up strength for swimming and to build a blubber
layer for warmth in the northern waters.
Moms position themselves against the current and train their
babies in swimming alongside like on a treadmill in a gym.
We hope they all will make it to the Northern feeding ground
Numbers of Cow-Calf Pairs
still don’t know why the number of cow-calf pairs
is so low this year. We need some more data
but we think that it might be caused by the El Nino year
that makes the water temperature warmer. Such water contains
and less plankton and as a consequence, fewer of the
other bottom-dwellers that are the beginning of the food
the main food source for the whales. The low numbers of
cow-calf pairs might be also caused by climate change affecting
the food source
the North. This can have an influence on the females not
to sustain their pregnancy. We don’t know the reasons
yet but we hope it will not be something serious for the
Most Adults Have Headed North
A lot of single adults are still in the Lagoon although
most of the adult whales probably already are heading north.
We will be looking forward to see them along the shores
of California, Oregon and Washington. We hope to see
next year in the
17, 2010, Laguna San Ignacio:
Hola! We are now back to a more normal wind pattern
and a few fronts moving through. The earthquake in Chile did
seem to create
higher tides, and combined with the full moon effect, we had
water across many roads and behind the camp. I have not ever
seen that here this time of year.
Where Are the Moms and Calves?
We just celebrated
the 10th anniversary of the victory
of stopping Mitsubishi from building a salt plant here at this
lagoon. We were honored to host leaders including author Dick
poet and environmental leader Homero
Aridjis Fuentesou, and scientist Dr. Steven Swartz. You can bet
my first question to Dr. Swartz was: Where are all the
moms and calves? what’s going on? As I suspected,
Dr. Swartz thinks our numbers are down in the lagoon because
of the high number of single male whales. They have been seen
harassing new moms, who won’t
be able to mate again until they have weaned the calf and led
north to feeding grounds. The researchers have also seen many
mom/calf pairs outside the mouth of the lagoon in the Pacific
Ocean, on the other side of the barrier islands, which are not
included in the census. The census only includes whales inside
the lagoon, a defined area. That explains why we are seeing so
few pairs, and even some of the single females seem to stay under
or around the pangas (tour boats) to avoid the males.
I am still noticing a higher number than last year of ‘skinny
whales, a few even showing backbones. Adults are swimming
in pairs, and a few adults with what appear to be juveniles.
This is very unusual, as normally the singles are very singular!
Is space involved in this (with the high number of single whales)?
lagoon is quite shallow and narrow (about 5
miles across) and we often see the whales using deeper channels.
As well as the whales, we’ve enjoyed trips into the mangroves
to get a closer look at the variety of birds here. I was thrilled
to sight the elusive Clapper Rails that hide in the mangroves. ‘Shell
beach’ has many layers of sand after all the storms and
hurricane last fall. Bottlenose
dolphins, a few sea lions and turtles, round out our sightings
and the variety of wildlife! See new photos at right!
3: Caroline writes: Hola! It is definitely
an El Nino year here at Laguna San Ignacio; the water temperature
February was about 65 degrees
and the air temperature in the high 70’s, about
10 degrees warmer than average.
The lagoon census
from February 17 shows 186 singles with only 8 pair of moms/calves,
for a total of 202 whales in the lagoon, but earlier, on February
4, the census showed 94 single whales and 15 pairs of moms with
a total of 124 whales. The singles about doubled,
but where did those 7 pairs of moms/calves go? It seems too early
for them to have headed out. I don’t recall
those numbers decreasing ever before. Our number of pairs should
for another week or so. I looked at past censuses back to 2002,
and the recent numbers are are
of the lowest mom/calf numbers we’ve seen— along
with the highest number of singles counted—for any part
of the season.
Is there a correlation there? Do the low mom/calf numbers have
anything to do with the warmer water?
We definitely see the difference with adult whales at every turn,
swimming the deeper channels of the lagoon and with mating groups
forming. We are only seeing a few of those mom/calf pairs. However,
enjoyed very active whales with spy hopping, breaches, and showing
tail flukes. One
juvenile was doing ‘headstands’ near our boat, repeatedly,
gently, swishing the water with its tail! I
have seen a couple of
"skinny" whales too. Quite an unusual and interesting
17: Patryzja writes: Whales are still arriving here
from the north, while some other whales are leaving for the
whales are just
At first we could
see only few mothers with their babies. Why? Some of the
are very young, maybe 2-3 weeks old, so mothers are still very
them. They don’t let the babies come too
close to the boats yet. But as you can suppose, the babies
are very curious. Sometimes they don’t listen to
their mothers! Sometimes calves sneak a little bit closer
but just a second later mom pops up between her baby and
Photo Patrycja Kaczynska
still can see some courtship and mating behavior — a
lot splashing, rolling over, showing different parts of the
giant body. There are also some juveniles, just playing
together. We met a very playful
young female, maybe
1-2 years old. She was doing many moves and behaviors just
next to the boat, but still too shy to come up close enough
so we could touch her. finally she came near enough to be touched
on Valentine's Day!
4: The first census count in San Ignacio Lagoon was
taken on this date. Of course
the number of whales in the lagoon is still changing, but here
is the Feb. 4 result. How many in all?
(Do the math!)
Migration Math: Click
here to check your total and
compare with past seasons.
How does the Feb. 4 total compare to this
week in February a year ago (2009)?
What is your prediction for the trend in 2010 calf numbers
this season at San Ignacio Lagoon: more or fewer than
San Ignacio, Baja
Breach and Splash!
caused this? (enlarge)
baby whale's eye