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Experts See Signs of Hope for the Pacific’s Gray Whales

The North Pacific’s long-beleaguered gray whales may finally be headed for recovery, officials say.

In 2019, a spike in strandings spurred NOAA to declare an Unusual Mortality Event for gray whales. Ocean warming has been driving prey to new areas, experts say, leaving whales in search of food, while entanglements in fishing nets and vessel strikes have posed an ongoing threat.

Following its latest count of migrating whales, NOAA estimates that gray whales now number around 14,500, down from roughly 16,700 last year, and well below their peak of close to 28,800 in 2015. The gray whale population is now the smallest it has been since the early 1970s, when the creatures were still recovering from commercial whaling.

But NOAA officials say there are signs of hope. Whales spotted in Mexico look healthier than in recent years, and strandings along the West Coast are at the lowest level since 2019.

In their latest survey, scientists also counted more mothers with calves than at any point in the last five years, suggesting gray whales could be primed for a comeback, said Aimée Lang, a biologist at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center. “The reports of small increases in the number of calves in Mexico may be a promising sign.”

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