New peril for gray whale survival? Predatory orcas spotted in Baja calving lagoon
The Humpback Whale Center’s research station in Point Sur, an archipelago in Baja California Sur near the end of the California Coast Range, is about two hours’ walk from the Mexican-U.S. border.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) marine mammals division has long-range reconnaissance work on marine mammals in California’s north-central coast and is tracking migrating gray whales. Marine mammals are the main prey of killer whales in the Baja California, an area in which all killer whales have now been counted and classified.
The last time that gray whales were seen in the Bay Area was in the late 1950s. Since then, the number has been slowly growing, with about 25 to 30 whales spotted on average each year. One reason the numbers have been rising is that in the Baja California, gray whales mate in the water and then return to the ocean to do so again.
The last time gray whales were in the area that is known as the Baja California coast was in 1982, when a female was seen and photographed in the San Luis Rey Creek Lagoon.
Now the coast seems to be more exposed to orcas. An orca named “Panthera,” or Panthera coucha, was spotted by a diver on July 19.
In addition to the discovery of the orcas, the Humpback Whale Center received a report that a humpback whale calf had been spotted in the area, too. The Center sent a member of their research team to the area, and on July 23, the team spotted a group of seven to 10 humpbacks and an orca.
In the past two years, at least five humpback calves have been spotted near the Humpback Center and several other local boat launches.
According to a letter from the California State Parks and Wildlife Department, the Humpback Center, which has