Conjoined Gray Whale Calves Found in Baja California Lagoon

science, gray whales, conjoined, calves

The conjoined calves were found Sunday by fisherman in the Laguna Ojo de Liebre, or Scammon’s Lagoon in Baja California, 533 miles from the San Diego border. A database search at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles turned up no results for previously recorded instances of Siamese gray whale twins.

The calves are believed to have been miscarried prior to the normal 13-and-a-half month gestation period of gray whales, or Eschrichtius robustus, as the carcass is only seven feet long. The normal range for newborn calves of this cetaceous species is between 12 and 16 feet. Together they weighed a half-ton. American Cetacean Society researcher Alisa Schulman-Janiger said that the underdeveloped twins sparked questions about the fate of their mother. The mottled gray baleen whales had two heads as well as two tails and were joined at the midsection. Conjoined twins have been documented in other whale species, namely fin, sei and minke whales.

Gray whales, who as shallow water feeders like to stay near coastlines, usually give birth during the 6,000-mile journey south from the Arctic’s Bering and Chukchi seas, or in southern lagoons during the last week of December and first two weeks of January. They then nurse their young for several weeks prior to migrating back to Arctic seas.

The conjoined gray whale calves
The conjoined gray whale calves

This year, the number of gray whales seen from a vantage point at Point Vincente Interpretive Centre in Ranchos Palos Verdes, CA has doubled from the same period last year. 364 whales have been spotted heading to Baja California. In 2012 this number was only 182. Several potential reasons for this include changing migration patterns and decreased visibility in the area, though conservation activists and animal lovers alike hope that it signifies a population boom for the once endangered species.

Benito Bermudez, marine biologist and the National Natural Protected Areas Commission (CONANP) described the finding as being “exceptionally rare – without any precedent.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association estimate the Pacific gray whale population to be about 21 000.

Gray whales were removed from the U.S. Endangered Species list in 1994, though they are still considered critically endangered in the Western North Pacific, with as few as 130 animals remaining, only 26 of those being breeding females. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the species has been subjected to extensive exploitation over the past three to four centuries. This is said to be unrelated to gray whale populations becoming extinct in the North Atlantic, and instead a disappearing habitat has been blamed for this tragedy.  Gray whales, also called ‘devilfish’ by whalers because of their natural instinct to fiercely defend themselves as well as their calves, have been called uncharacteristically “friendly’ in the Baja California region, for having an atypical propensity to approach whale-watching boats and even let the whale-watcher scratch their massive tongues.

The perishing of the conjoined gray whale calves has been described as a “step forward” for science, as the carcass was collected for further research. Scientists also plan to search the whale’s sanctuaries in lagoons off Baja California for similar instances of conjoined gray whale twins.

 Written by Apryl Legeas


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