DNA evidence for historic population size and
past ecosystem impacts of gray whales

S. Elizabeth Alter, Eric Rynes and Stephen R. Palumbi

Published online in the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences, September 10, 2007

Gray 1
Gray 1b
Gray 2
Gray 5

How abundant were gray whales? Voices from history

It has been estimated…that a thousand whales passed southward daily from 15th of December to the 1st of February. Accepting this number without allowing for those which passed off shore out of sight of land…the aggregate would be increased to 47,000.

Capt. Charles Scammon, 1872 p. 23

In the Bay of Monterey, they have been seen rolling, with apparent delight, in the breakers along the beach.

Scammon 1872 p. 2

“It is impossible to describe either the number of whales or their familiarity,” with breath that “caused a most annoying stench” French explorer Jean La Perouse, 1786 in Monterey

Photo captions

Gray1 and 1b: Gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) return from Arctic feeding grounds to lagoons in Mexico each winter to give birth. New genetic results indicate that in the past, the number of whales returning to these lagoons may have been much larger. Photo credit: Geoff Shester. Photo location: Laguna San Ignacio, Mexico.
Gray2: Gray whale calves in Baja California, Mexico, are nourished only by their mothers’ milk until they reach rich feeding grounds in the Bering, Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. Photo Credit: Liz Alter. Photo location: Laguna Ojo de Liebre, Mexico.
Gray5: A gray whale calf breaches in Bahia Magdalena. Photo credit: Sergio Nigenda. Photo location: Bahia Magdalena, Mexico.

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Research summary brochure from the Lenfest Ocean program

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