The gray whales of the eastern Pacific were removed from the endangered species list in 1994, but now they appear to be in trouble again.
If you’re walking along one of Southern California’s beaches, you’ve got a good chance of seeing a whale spouting or a pod of dolphins riding the waves. This coastline supports a rich community of marine mammals, including gray whales, which complete one of the longest migrations of any mammal. They make an annual round trip of up to 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers)—farther than flying from Los Angeles to Tokyo and back—from the food-rich northern Pacific Ocean to the warm waters off Mexico, where they mate and give birth.
But this region is also home to Los Angeles Harbor, the busiest port in the U.S. Whales and dolphins here face constant threats from human activities: shipping traffic, commercial and recreational whale-watching boats, oil rigs, and pollution.
Volunteers helped researchers find out how these activities affect marine mammals and helped develop strategies to reduce these risks. From both the shore and the deck of a boat, they observed marine mammals—how they behave on their own, and how they behave when boats or other disturbances are around. Volunteers learned how to estimate their distance and how to use photos to identify individual whales and dolphins. Earthwatch volunteers worked hard to protect some of the ocean’s most majestic inhabitants.