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Gulf of California

Geologically, the Gulf of California is one of the youngest ocean bodies of the World, formed by the plate tectonic separation of Baja California from the North American Plate towards the Pacific Plate (Photo: NASA, SeaWIFS)

The Gulf of California is a semi-enclosed, long extended and narrow sea located in the eastern Pacific between mainland Mexico and the Baja Peninsula. The northern part of the gulf is rather shallow due to the sediment discharged by the Colorado River run-off. The southern gulf portion is much deeper including the Guaymas Basin. This basin has volcanic and hydrothermal vents, which support biotic communities based on hydrogen sulfide for energy rather than sunlight.


Geologically, the Gulf of California is one of the youngest ocean bodies of the World, formed by the plate tectonic separation of Baja California from the North American Plate towards the Pacific Plate.

The Gulf of California is a subtropical sea with rather arid climate conditions. It has one of the greatest tidal ranges on earth.


The high primary productivity of the sea supports numerous invertebrates. Many different fish and 24 large marine mammal species including different dolphins and whales live here. Besides whales also sea lions and different turtles are abundant.


Some of the commercial fish species of the Gulf of California are sardines, anchovies and squid. Regional fish catches are important in providing food for millions of Mexicans.


Environment problems in the Gulf of California include agriculture inputs and burdened runoff from the Colorado River. Additionally, coastal pollution and mining represent further important threats to the bio diversity in this region. Over fishing of the narrow sea poses another threat to regional fish and marine mammal species. Furthermore, bottom trawling destroys eelgrass beds and kills shellfish.


Historically, the first European visiting the Gulf of California was the seafarer Nuñez de Guzmán in 1532. Francesco de Ulloa circumnavigated the sea in 1539 and established first charts of the region, which, however, did not find their way into European maps before the 18th century.



Blue whales on the surface (Photo: Dan Shapiro)

The Blue Whales in the Gulf of California


The Gulf of California hosts a wide variety of cetaceans such as different dolphins, fin whale, humpback, gray whale, pilot- and killer whales as well as blue whale, which all take advantage of these productive waters and can be sighted during each session.


The Gulf of California appears to be an important site for blue whales during the winter breeding season. Some females even give birth to their calves in the calm waters. Mother and calf blue whale thus can regularly been observed from January through April. They are breaching, practicing speed swimming and interacting with observers’ boats.


Based on collected data, over 300 individual whales were photo-identified in the region. The blue whale is the largest animal existing on earth. This whale can grow to a length of 33 meters and weigh 190 tons, but on the average it is mostly smaller. The head of the blue whale makes to as much as a quarter of the total body length. The whale has twin blowholes with exceptionally large fleshy splashguards to the front and sides. The baleen plates in the mouth of the blue whale can be 90 to 100 centimeters in length, which is still not the longest of all whales. By taking tons of water into its mouth and filtering out the fish or krill with its baleen plates, a medium-sized blue whale can feed over four tons of krill per day.


Most blue whales live in the Southern Hemisphere while smaller populations inhabit the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans. They make long distances between low latitude winter mating grounds and high latitude summer feeding grounds.


Before man’s excessive hunt on the whale started at the beginning of the 1900s, over 200,000 blue whales were swimming the World Ocean. By 1978, whalers took most of this huge cetacean and many of them illegally. Current figures suggest that only roughly 12,000 blue whales have left. As the present population figure suggests the marine mammals were ruthlessly and relentlessly slaughtered for every reason imaginable almost to the point of extinction. Now on the list of endangered species, the blue whale is protected since 1967 worldwide by international law. Hunt on blue whale is prohibited for any person and for any reason. Scientists suggest that some blue whale populations may never recover.



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