Saturday, May 15, 2010

Gray Whale Sighting--On the Wrong Side of the World

No, this isn't the plot for the next Free Willy movie. A good friend sent me the link to this article and I knew right away I'd have to talk about it!

When researchers from the Israel Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Center (IMMRAC) went out to study a whale last Saturday everything seemed normal at first. The whale wasn't behaving strangely and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. For almost two hours they observed the whale and, at first, believed it to be a sperm whale. That in itself would have been exciting as a sperm whale has never before been sighted in that area. However, things seemed a bit strange. The blowhole of the whale wasn't located where it should have been to be a sperm whale and the dorsal region wasn't wrinkled as it is on a sperm whale. The researchers took some photographs and returned to shore. After closely examining the photographs they learned they had been watching a gray whale all that time.

What is so remarkable about that?

Gray whales do not live near Israel, or the Mediterranean. There aren't any gray whales in the Atlantic and haven't been since the eighteenth century. Gray whales are known to live in the western and eastern Pacific and number roughly around 20,200. Neither location is anywhere near Israel or the Mediterranean.

Still, researchers say there is no doubt a gray whale was seen in waters off Israel. According to Phillip Clapham of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration there are two possible explanations for the whale sighting: a relict population in the North Atlantic that no one has noticed or that the whale came down through the ice-free Northwest Passage and is lost. The latter explanation seems most likely.

Clapham believes that with the Northwest Passage opening up in coming years due to warming temperatures that this gray whale will not be the last to make it from the waters where they normally live to new waters.

If you would like to read more about this amazing sighting and see three of the photographs of this gray whale taken by IMMRAC check out this article.

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