Biologists monitoring gray whales in two large birthing lagoons in the warm waters off the coast of Baja California have made a heartening discovery during this year's annual census -- evidence of an ongoing baby boom.
According to CONANP, Mexico's environmental protection agency, 981 gray whale calves were born since January, the second largest number on record. Officials say that this higher birthrate, part of a growing trend which suggests that conservation efforts put in place has allowed the species to recover to near-normal levels.
In recent years, the Mexican government has created marine sanctuaries protecting the whale's breeding zones while encouraging ecotourism, like whale watching.
CONANP director Benito Bermudez describes the population "very healthy" and that it's showing "a tendency toward increasing."
Gray whales were once hunted to near extinction, reduced to an estimated 2,000 individuals by the middle part of the last century. Today, says CONANP, there are some 25,000 gray whales throughout the world -- a population size that hasn't been seen in 170 years.
In total, this season's count has yielded 2,419 gray whales, up from a 19 year average of 1,641. When the calves are strong enough, in early spring, the whales will begin their long migration back north for summer feeding in the cooler waters of the North Pacific.