Priority Species - Gray Whale
General Information on the Grey Whale:
PROYECTO PARA LA PROTECCIÓN DE LA BALLENA GRIS EN LA LAGUNA SAN IGNACIO
THE GREY WHALE PROTECTION PROJECT AT LAGUNA DE SAN IGNACIO
- There’s an estimated population of 25,000 whales in the world.
- Grey whales feed on Krill, tiny crustaceans that look a lot like shrimp.
- During their feeding period in the Bering Sea, each whale can eat as much
as a ton and a half of krill each day.
- All the whales in the pacific-west reproduce and are born in Mexico.
- They travel 12,000 kilometers (7,456 miles) each year from Alaska to the
Lagoons in San Ignacio, Guerrero Negro and Magdalena Bay in Baja California.
- They start their migration to Mexico in September, traveling in groups (the
first being young whales that come to breed a and after them, females who
arrive to give birth to their calves).
- During migration, they travel daily an average of 145 kilometers (90 miles).
- The San Ignacio Lagoon is the last pristine place left in the world where
whales reproduce and give birth.
- They reproduce every two years and have a thirteen month gestation period.
- The average length of grey whales has been measured at 13.5 meters (44 feet).
- At birth, their average length is 3.5 meters (11.48 feet) and their weight
is around half a ton.
- Almost 53% of the milk is fat, which is the reason why, on their migration
to the north, calves weigh nearly four tons.
- One out of every three born whales doesn’t make it back to the Artic
because of killer whale attacks or drowning due to entanglement in illegal
- A whale’s average life span is 50 years.
- In the XIX century, excessive whale hunting pushed the grey whale population
almost to the brink of extinction, which led the international community to
the creation of protection schemes. (International Whaling Commission-1946).
- In the year 1972, the Mexican president declared the Laguna de San Ignacio
as the First Grey Whale Refuge. In 1988, it was declared part of the
Biosphere Reserve El Vizcaíno.
- In 1972, the first registered friendly contact between a whale and a human
was between a whale and a local fisherman called “Pachico”, a contact which
takes place to this day.
The San Ignacio Lagoon is an UNESCO Natural Heritage Site. It is home to sea turtles, peregrine falcons, eagles and thousands
of migratory, aquatic and coastal birds. It is also the last undeveloped lagoon where grey whales are born. The San Ignacio
Lagoon is part of a network of coastal wetlands that include salt flats, sandy beaches and mangroves. Its considered one of
the world’s natural treasures and one of the most biologically significant coastal sites.
The Alliance for the Conservation of the San Ignacio Lagoon between the USA, Canada and Mexico was created under the leadership
of Pronatura. The objective of this historic alliance is the total conservation of the ecosystem through the implementation of
land conservation easements (limits uses on the land to protect its conservation values) on 400,000 hectares (988,421 acres)
of community lands, known as ejidos, surrounding the lagoon.
The San Ignacio Lagoon is the last virgin location in the World for the protection, reproduction and birthing of the Grey whale.
It is also considered one of the most biologically important coastal sites in the planet.
However, this lagoon has a high level of vulnerability due to the continuous interest to construct real estate development
projects, to obtain concessions for salt extraction and growing land speculation, all of which threaten to dramatically alter
the pristine lagoon and hundreds of hectares of mangroves and intertidal zones.
In an unprecedented action, on March 15th 2007, Pronatura and the Aztec Movement collected 42 million pesos from voluntary
donations for the conservation of the natural habitat of the grey whale.
These funds allowed the creation of a Trust that will guarantee the conservation of twenty thousand hectares (approx. forty
nine thousand acres) of the grey whale’s habitat.
The main action lines of this Trust are the following:
Trust Fund for the Conservation and Protection of the Grey Whale’s Habitat
- Protection of coastal ecosystems: It will guarantee the permanent conservation of
twenty thousand hectares of priority ecosystems for the grey whale through the purchase of
Development Rights (land conservation easements) with the purpose of avoiding uses and activities
that are non- compatible with the protection of the habitat such as: residential developments,
hotels and extractive industries, among others.
- Monitoring: construction and equipping of a center for research and monitoring of
- Vigilance: construction of towers, organization of community groups for
surveillance and outfitting of brigades (motorboats, four wheel motorcycles, radios, GPS systems).
- Capacity building: formation of community groups for surveillance and conservation
with members of the ejido-communities, fishermen and ecotourism service providers in the area.
- Legal protection: available resources to face contingencies that put the area under
risk and to provide legal defense against potential conflicts that could threaten the grey whale and
All Grey Whales that travel large distances in the Pacific Ocean are Mexican by birth. Mexicans have therefore a special
commitment with mankind to protect the lagoons where this species reproduces.
For that reason, the participation of civil society, the government and the industry is needed for the protection of this
The creation of a private Fund gives future contributions transparency and legitimacy and guarantees the implementation
of conservation actions in the long term at the lagoon.
Alongside this Fund, it’s important to add the presence of key actors from civil society, the industry and governmental
institutions who are central to the effective protection of the reproductive habitat of the Grey Whale.
For more information, please visit: www.pronatura-noroeste.org