^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ J. Michael Williamson Principal Investigator-WhaleNet <http://whale.wheelock.edu> Associate Professor-Science Wheelock College, 200 The Riverway, Boston, MA 02215 voice: 617.734.5200, ext. 256 fax: 617.734.8666, or 617.566.7369 ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ ---------- Forwarded message ---------- Date: Mon, 17 Mar 97 12:43:00 GMT From: email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com Subject: EXP--Whale Summit EXP--Whale Summit By DANA CALVO Associated Press Writer LAGUNA SAN IGNACIO, Mexico (AP) -- His black waders streaked with salt, the fisherman reached below the water's sun-warmed surface and patted the nose of a baby gray whale who had sidled up to the hull. The 40-ton mother whale was still recuperating from labor. She patiently drifted underneath her calf as he basked in the fisherman's attention. Later that afternoon, the fisherman, 29-year-old Luis Geronimo Murillo Aguilar, restarted the small motor on his wooden boat and sped to a nearby campsite where American and Mexican environmentalists were meeting. The environmentalists had gathered to discuss how to stop a proposed salt factory on the shores of the lagoon -- the last undeveloped calving ground for the California gray whale. "I hope they have details," Murillo said of the visitors. "It's just that I prefer to be a fisherman than work for the factory." Murillo and his brothers have always earned their living from this isolated lagoon more than 500 miles south of San Diego. For several months a year, they supplement their incomes as whale-watching tour guides. The area's riches lie in the lagoon's 65-degree water, where animals have not learned to fear humans and gray whales and dolphins gingerly approach small crafts. Scientists estimate that during migration season from January to late March as many as 300 of the world's 18,000 gray whales gather here at one time. Females arrive to give birth, and males to protect their mates. Some environmentalists say the lagoon's salinity is slightly higher than the ocean's average of 3.5 percent, helping make it a healthy nursery for whales. After a 5,000-mile migration that begins off the Alaskan coastline, expectant mothers enter the lagoon's slightly warmer waters, where they float more easily and can be assured their newborn will rise to the surface almost immediately to take its first breath. For weeks, the newborns consume only their mother's milk, a nutrient-rich liquid with 55 percent fat content. The babies gain about 50 pounds a day and build muscular strength in an area free from nets, tankers or predators. Locals insist that successive generations of whales return. Murillo and other fishermen know certain whales by telltale dark patches or jagged harpoon scars. The older, wounded mammals are part of the small group that until 1994 was on the endangered species list, residents said. They learned afterward, however, that the gray whale was again in danger. A Mexican environmental group discovered that a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Inc. was developing plans to build the world's largest salt factory in Laguna San Ignacio. In 1995, the subsidiary, Exportada de Sal, S.A. (known as ESSA), submitted blueprints for the proposed salt factory to Mexico's environmental agency. Partly because of protests from Grupo de los Cien, the Mexican environmentalist group, the agency said the plant might violate the tranquility of the world's last undeveloped gray whale calving area. ESSA, the world's second-largest salt producer, has hired experts to assess the plant's environmental risks and will present a new report next year, company officials said. If the second study reveals the saltworks would harm the environment, they said, the project would be abandoned. So far, businessmen in the state capital of La Paz and the governor have endorsed the $120 million plant. The Mexican government owns 51 percent of the company, Mitsubishi 49 percent. According to ESSA's plans, a battery of diesel engines would drain the lagoon of 6,000 gallons of saltwater per second. The water would spread out on the desert floor where it would crystallize. The salination process, according to a spokesman for Mitsubishi International Corp., is natural and mild. "It's perfect for a solar evaporation salt factory," said spokesman Stephen Weschselblatt. "Nature created it. You don't have to do anything except wait fortwo years until the water turns to salt." Patricia Martinez disagreed. She's director of the binational group ProEsteros, which seeks to shield salt marshes from development. "They can't keep taking, taking and taking minerals from the water and not change entirely this area," she said. Workers would rake up the salt and load it onto tankers by a mile-long conveyer belt. Environmentalists claim the pier would clearly hinder the whales' entry into the lagoon. Marine biologist Rob Nawojchik said he is concerned about the twice-weekly presence of diesel tankers in the lagoon; the noise could disorient the whales or introduce stress during the bonding time between mother and calf. "The noise pollution is a factor," he said from his office at Mystic Marine Life Aquarium in Mystic, Conn. "They're living in an acoustic environment. They don't rely on their sight that much." The estimated six million tons of salt taken each year from Laguna San Ignacio could be sold to chlorinemanufacturers, table salt companies or other companies looking to buy the raw crystals in bulk, ESSA officials said. "The big money of these waters will be in the labs of Japan," said Mark Spalding, an international environmental law professor and author of a report on the proposed factory. "Japan gets rich, and Mexico doesn't." Spalding, Martinez and representatives from Grupo de los Cien, as well as activists affiliated with the Washington-based National Resource Defense Council, met at the lagoon March 7 to talk about ESSA's plans. They pledged to continue working to fight the plant's construction. Everyone at the meeting agreed a salt factory would permanently destroy an entire ecosystem, which has thrived since 1988 when the Mexican government declared it part of a protected federal biosphere reserve. But there appear to be few recourses left for opponents. "Enforcing a federal biosphere reserve is nearlyidents. On a good summer day, Murillo and his colleagues can pull in up to 220 pounds of white sea bass, hammerhead shark and shellfish. Bringing those fresh catches to town is always hampered by the gully-ripped road. The improved road is only one of many benefits the backers of the salt factory are promoting to local residents. They also stress the jobs that the factory will create and the increased income that will help residents build new houses and otherwise improve their lives.