The blue waters surrounding the Baja Peninsula are home to a rich diversity of marine life, most notably large marine animals, including dolphins, humpback whales, and whale sharks. But increasingly frequent extreme climatic events, such as marine heatwaves, are disrupting the marine environment and threatening these critical species. Marine heatwaves can cause a variety of issues, including toxic algae blooms, disruptions in the food chain, and mass mortality events. However, little data has been collected on the exact impacts these events can have on large marine animals. Furthermore, urban sprawl and the area’s growing marine ecotourism industry threaten to amplify the impacts of these climatic events if not well managed.
You’ll visit two stunning locations on the Baja Peninsula, La Paz Bay and Punta Lobos, to help researchers discover how climatic events, urbanization, and marine ecotourism are impacting the marine environment. You’ll work alongside Dr. Lenin Oviedo to monitor the populations and behavior of bottlenose dolphins and humpback whales through boat and land-based surveys. Understanding these species' foraging activities, respiration rates, population sizes, and reproductive success can reveal how and to what extent the environment is being disturbed.
You’ll also help investigate how closely tour operators adhere to current ecotourism regulations. You’ll join a whale shark tour operation and measure the boats’ proximity to whale shark aggregations, how whale sharks respond to the boat and tourists, and the conditions of the water. You may even have the opportunity to swim alongside whale sharks as you record their behavior and photograph the distinctive patterns around their dorsal fins to help identify individual sharks. The valuable data you collect will shed light on adherence to current regulations and the potential impact of these tours on whale shark behavior.
This project will provide researchers and policymakers with the baseline data needed to monitor the health of their coastal seascapes and develop management policies that ensure marine ecosystems remain healthy and sustainable for both wildlife and humans.