The UNESCO-designated Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino is located on the Pacific Coast of the central part of the Baja California Peninsula and is embedded in the much larger El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve (Mexico's largest protected area) encompassing desert, mountain and coastal/marine ecosystems.
El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve is located in the central part of the Baja California peninsula in the Sebastian Volcano region, between the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean. Vizcaíno includes a great abundance and variety of species of wild fauna and flora, including numerous endemics to the Mesoamerican region and species which are in danger of extinction elsewhere.
Protection of the site is justified by the exceptional value of the desert, mountain and coastal/marine ecosystems, which link the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of California. The reserve is also of importance for its fossil beds and numerous marine birds, including some under threat of extinction. Grey whale (Eschrichtius robustus) frequents the bay. There are more than 400 prehistoric sites of importance on the peninsula, as well as petroglyphs, wall paintings and ancient ruined structures. The World Heritage Site: Rock Paintings of the Sierra de San Francisco is located within the reserve.
The Biosphere Reserve contains three subdivisions of the Sonoran Desert. The sub-Province "Vizcaíno Desert" is the best represented, covering almost 95% of the area of the Reserve; the sub- Province "Gulf Coast" occupies a narrow strip along the eastern borders of the sierras to the east of the Reserve; and "Magdalena Region" only covers one percent.
The reserve's lagoon complex is the Grey Whale’s calving and mating site containing the most important breeding grounds of the Eastern subpopulation of the North Pacific Grey Whale. The lagoon complex also harbors healthy populations of Mexicana Bighorn Sheep, Mule Deer, Puma, Coyote and 64 other species of mammals. It is also a refuge for 125 species of migratory birds and the transition zone between tropical and temperate climates.
The diversity of physical and climatic environments has led to the development of very rich wildlife, both in form and in its adaptation to this arid region, typical of what is known as the Sonora Desert, one of North America’s four deserts.
Four hundred and sixty-three species of flora have been found in the terrestrial part of the Reserve and 37 are known to be endemic to the geographical area in general. The greatest number of plant associations of the whole peninsula is concentrated in this region. Approximately 8.3% of the flora is known to be endemic to the geographical region of the El Vizcaíno Desert.
The Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaíno comprises two coastal lagoons, Laguna Ojo de Liebre and Laguna San Ignacio, and their surroundings — a complex mosaic of wetlands, marshes, halophytes, dunes and desert habitats — as well as mangroves in the transition areas.
With a landmass of over 9,625 square miles (24,930 square km), the El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve is the largest wildlife refuge in Mexico and borders on the northern edge of the Valle de los Cirios Protected Area of Flora and Fauna.
The animals and plants of this territory have adapted themselves to the region’s extreme desert conditions with little rainfall, intense winds and an ecosystem which has produced thousands of endemic species of plants and animal life found nowhere else in the world.
The Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino contains the most important breeding grounds of the Eastern subpopulation of the North Pacific Grey Whale. Its protection is intricately linked with saving the species from extinction and recovery after near-collapse due to excessive commercial whaling.
The lagoons are home to numerous other marine mammals, such as Bottlenose Dolphin, California Sea Lion and Harbor Seal. Four marine turtle species occur in the shallow waters which are also an important habitat and nursery for a large number of fish, crustaceans, and others forms of life.
Countless breeding and migratory bird species, including for example a major resident osprey population and more than half of Mexico´s wintering population of Brant Goose depend on the lagoons and adjacent habitats.
This exceptional sanctuary conserves both marine and terrestrial ecosystems and their delicate interface. The surrounding desert, biogeographically part of the Sonoran Desert, boasts highly diverse flora and fauna.
Despite the protection status, the property is susceptible to the potential impacts of economic activities taking place in the immediate vicinity of the lagoons, in particular benthic and pelagic fisheries, large-scale salt extraction and tourism.