Eco Migrations is working to establish long-term research projects using the framework and facilities that are already in place, in order to contribute to the understanding, monitoring and conservation of some of the species that provide livelihoods and enjoyment to so many of us. Our main focal species are initially Gray Whales (Eschrichtius robustus) in Bahía Almejas and Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Bay of La Paz
Bahía Almejas, on the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur (B.C.S.), is refuge to many of the north-eastern Gray whales that complete the extensive migration from the cold waters of Alaska and Canada, along the west coast of Canada and the United States, down to their Mexican winter breeding grounds. Here they stay between early-January and mid-March. Whilst whale watching in more northern bays of B.C.S. have been thriving industries for several decades, Bahía Almejas only established tourism several years ago, and continues to attract more guests each season. Describing how the gray whales use this habitat, allows us to understand why this is an important place for the species, and provides the community with data to inform best management strategies for the sustainable continued development of the tourism and area use. By using photo identification and GPS data to describe the local population of gray whales, and with your volunteer involvement, we can ensure that the growth of the local tourism industry does not negatively impact the gray whales that rely upon the sanctuary of Bahía Almejas.
The peninsula of Baja California Sur is home to an incredible biodiversity, with a wide array of marine megafauna frequenting or residing in its waters. The shallow and warm watered bays along the west coast of the peninsula provide much welcomed protection for mothers with their new calves. Bahía Almejas is the southernmost of these bays used by the gray whales on their migration. The bay has been utilized by the locals for fishing for generations, and was only granted permission to start tourism activities relatively recently, compared to the more popular sites of Ojo de Liebre, San Ignacio Lagoon, Puerto Lopez Mateos and Puerto San Carlos. The main entrance to the bay is from a remote fishing village, Puerto Chale, and is sheltered from the Pacific Ocean by Isla Santa Margarita and Isla Cresciente.
The shallow waters of Bahía Almejas are an important area for grey whales in their search for a mate, and a sanctuary for calving females where mothers can nurse their offspring. This also makes observing the animals relatively easy and ideal for tourism.
Tourism is extremely valuable to the local economy, and as it grow in popularity, understanding how the gray whales use this habitat will allow us to inform best management practices, ensuring the continued sustainable development of tourism in the area. As an area that will see increasing tourism over the years, it is our aim to create a long-term research project to understand how the individual gray whales, and the population as a whole, are using the area within and across seasons.
Whilst tourism has significant benefits to the socio-economics of local communities, a rapid growth in tourism without careful adherence to guidelines has been known to negatively impact the local resources and cause disturbance to the focal species. Therefore a long-term study can provide an indication of what, if any, impacts may come about.
Bottlenose dolphins make a regular appearance in La Paz, where pods are often observed on the way to many of the local sites. From previous studies conducted it is known that there are both resident and transient populations of bottlenose dolphins in the area. Our aim is to establish a long-term photo ID study to update and continue to describe the abundance and distribution of the dolphins in the area, how this relates to environmental factors, and ultimately to understand and monitor the health of the population and the local marine environment. As a community built on eco tourism, conserving and enhancing the marine environment is hugely important.
The waters of La Paz Bay, Baja California Sur, in the Gulf of California are home to an array of marine megafauna, including several species of marine mammal. The geology of the region results in tidal mixing and upwelling, making it a highly productive area and a hub for many migratory and non-migratory species. Common bottlenose dolphins are present both residentially in the Bay of La Paz and transiently in the waters around Isla Espiritu Santo. They are an important indicator of the health of the marine environment, which is so important to the local community.
Dolphins can be individually identified using photo identification of their dorsal fins, which have unique markings and nicks. Through a long-term photo ID study we aim to look at the population biology and behavioural ecology of the bottlenose dolphins, to understand the groupings of the animals and determine any relationships between the species and environmental variables. As the project develops, we will be able to measure reproductive success, establish any intra- and inter-species relationships that may exist, and understand further any threats they face. In a constantly changing and rapidly growing world, minimising anthropogenic threats where possible will reduce the pressures faced by this species. Species’ status assessments require periodic updates of population abundance and recovery, data from which can be utilised from conservation status updates to local resource management and planning to minimise impacts.
The resident population of bottlenose dolphins in the bay of La Paz is an area where they rear their young and feed. Understanding the environmental factors that create this important breeding and feeding habitat will enable us to work to further protect these components and characteristics. We also aim to identify the individuals of the pods of transient bottlenose dolphins frequenting the waters surrounding Isla Espiritu Santo, to understand how they move around the island, any seasonality, threats, and whether they interact with each other or any other species of marine megafauna, in particular other dolphin species.
Based on Isla Espiritu Santo, the study will be conducted for 11 days each month for a year.