Our History

Mary Lou Jones & Steven Swartz Founders 1977
Mary Lou Jones and Steven Swartz in Laguna San Ignacio 1977.

Dr. Steven Swartz and Mary Lou Jones conducted the first systematic studies of gray whales in Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California Sur from 1977-1982. Dr. Jorge Urban R. resumed field studies of gray whales from 1996 to 2000, which continued sporadically until 2003. Recognizing the need for an ongoing science based monitoring program, these investigators collaborated in 2007 to initiate the “Laguna San Ignacio Ecosystem Science Program” (LSIESP). In 2007 they joined the San Diego based non-profit Pro Peninsula and then in 2009 merged with The Ocean Foundation, a Washington D.C. based 501-C-3 non-profit environmental organization that serves as the fiscal agent for the gray whale research program. In 2015 the gray whale research expanded into the Bahia Magdalena lagoon complex to monitor the gray whales that occupy that lagoon complex in winter and the growing whale-watching based eco-tourism activity in that region. 

Jorge Urban and Sergio Martinez A. at Laguna San Ignacio
Jorge Urban R. and Sergio Martinez A. at Laguna San Ignacio.



Together they established a science based program that enlists and supports researchers and graduate students in marine science to monitor and research the ecological health of these lagoons where gray whale gather each winter to breed and birth their calves. Ongoing support from our community of sponsors allowed the program to expand and in 2024 it was renamed the "Gray Whale Research in Mexico" program, a project of The Ocean Foundation.




Annual public "Reunion" at Laguna San Ignacio

The "Gray Whale Research in Mexico" program utilizes community meetings, school presentations, scientific publications, and its website to report and disseminate its scientific findings to the government wildlife managers, local community members, eco-tour operators, fishing cooperatives, schools, and residents of the region that depend on these lagoon ecosystems for their livelihoods. We believe that and educated, empowered and active local community working for the common goal of environmental preservation, conservation and responsible stewardship is an effective means to address future threats to the region’s environment and economic and biological stability. To this end we are dedicated to providing reliable science based information to assist the local community to make informed decisions about future development options.

RV MASAM Laguna San Ignacio 2023
Gray whale research panga RV MASAM  (Mayan for "whale") in Laguna San Ignacio 2023.