Related BBC sites

Page last updated at 14:37 GMT, Monday, 10 May 2010 15:37 UK
Mediterranean gray whale appears 'back from the dead'
By Matt Walker
Editor, Earth News

Gray whale sighted off Herzliya Marina
Gray whale sighted off Herzliya Marina

A gray whale has appeared off the coast of Israel, shocking conservationists.

Gray whales are thought to be extinct across the Atlantic Ocean, so the appearance of an individual within the Mediterranean Sea is a major surprise.

The whale may have inadvertently travelled a huge distance from its natural habitat thousands of kilometres away in the Pacific Ocean.

However, it raises the possibility that gray whales have returned to former haunts in the western hemisphere.

Photographic ID

Once, three major populations of gray (also spelt grey) whale existed: in the western and eastern North Pacific Ocean, and in the North Atlantic.

Tail fluke of gray whale sighted off Herzliya Marina
This discovery is truly amazing. To find one in the North Atlantic, let alone the Mediterranean Sea, is bizarre in the extreme
Nicola Hodgins of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society

However, the North Atlantic population of gray whale became extinct sometime in the 17th or 18th Century, for reasons that are not clear.

No sightings of the species had been made in the Atlantic Ocean since.

That was until a single individual gray whale was sighted off the coast of Herzliya Marina, Israel.

On 9 May, researchers from the Israel Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Centre (IMMRAC) in Israel went to investigate.

They took photographs to identify the huge animal, which they have since confirmed is a gray whale.

"This discovery is truly amazing. Today, gray whales only inhabit the Pacific Ocean, so to find one in the North Atlantic, let alone the Mediterranean Sea, is bizarre in the extreme," says Nicola Hodgins of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), which has its headquarters in Wiltshire, UK.

Scientists baffled

The WDCS says that experts are baffled by the whale's appearance.

MORE ABOUT WHALES

"Gray whales are well known for performing one of the world's longest migrations, making a yearly round trip of 15,000-20,000 km," says Ms Hodgins.

"Over a lifetime, a gray whale migrates the equivalent distance of a return trip to the moon.

"However, these new images show that this particular whale would have had to beat all previous distance records to end up where it has."

It would also have had to swim a circuitous route to reach the Mediterranean, perhaps taking the extremely unlikely course of swimming up a major swimming canal that links the Pacific and Atlantic.

SOURCES

That raises the possibility that the whale did not swim into the Mediterranean Sea alone, but is part of a population that has recolonised parts of the Atlantic Ocean, and the Mediterranean Sea that links to it.

"Its presence off the coast of Israel will certainly pose a lot of questions to the scientific community," says Ms Hodgins.



Print Sponsor


SEE ALSO IN EARTH NEWS
In pictures: Right time for right whale
15 Apr 10 |  Earth News
What to do with captive orcas?
25 Feb 10 |  Earth News
No 'extensive hunt' of rare whale
17 Feb 10 |  Earth News
Rare whale gathering sighted
04 Nov 09 |  Earth News
Epic humpback whale battle filmed
23 Oct 09 |  Earth News
Massive killer whale pod sighted
15 Oct 09 |  Earth News
Net injury 'disables' minke whale
12 Jun 09 |  Earth News

OTHER RELATED BBC LINKS


MOST POPULAR STORIES

From Science/Environment in the past week

  • TUESDAY :
  • MONDAY :
  • SUNDAY :

BBC navigation

BBC © 2013 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific