Remember the gray whale that was recently spotted off Israel? Its sighting was huge news because gray whales haven’t been seen in the eastern hemisphere since at least the eighteenth century; the only gray whale populations remaining in the world are in the Pacific Ocean. The likeliest explanation for the whale’s appearance in the Mediterranean was that, during a summer feeding season north of Alaska, it somehow made its way through either the Northeast or Northwest Passage before turning south into the Atlantic.
Well, the whale has been spotted again.
On May 30, at about 4.30 p.m. local time, researchers saw the whale off the coast of Spain, near Barcelona. Comparative photographs confirm it was the same one that was seen off Israel (then again, it would be an even more remarkable story if it were not, and there were more than one gray whale swimming around the Mediterranean). The whale, having somehow found its way through the Strait of Gibraltar and traveled east as far as it could, has now made it back to the western side of the sea.
Speculation alert: Right about now, its brethren in the Pacific population it has left behind are swimming north toward the Arctic; it is possible, perhaps even likely, that instinct is urging our wayward whale to do the same, and that it is looking for a way around the Iberian Peninsula in an attempt to do so.
In an email to Discovery News, Manel Gazo of Spanish cetacean research and conservation organization SUBMON said that coordinated efforts are underway to relocate the whale in order to track it, advise ship traffic to exercise caution in its vicinity, and secure a biopsy or a sample of sloughed skin to confirm the population whence the whale came.
In the meantime, thousands of miles from home, the whale swims on …
Images courtesy Dr. Manel Gazo