Friday, 17 May 2013

Gray whale spotted off Namibia

A rare and mysterious visitor in Walvis Bay

May 2013. Gray whales, Eschrichtius robustus, range in the high Arctic (Pacific) and northern Pacific Oceans, venturing as far south as Baja California and Mexico on the west coast of America and the Korean Peninsula to breed in summer. Gray whales did occur in the North Atlantic Ocean, but was hunted to extinction in the 1700's, but was never known to venture south of the equator. Or so we thought.

On 04 May 2013, tour boats on a dolphin cruise to Pelican Point (Namibia) saw a strange whale. Several more sightings during the following week seemed to indicate the unlikely fact that a Gray whale was visiting Walvis Bay! On Sunday 12 May a member of the Walvis Bay strandings network confirmed the reports that there was a Gray whale in the locality. This is the first known record of this species in the Southern Hemisphere. The question is now "what is the origin of this whale?"

Gray whale in the Mediterranean
In May 2010 a Gray whale was seen off Israel in the Mediterranean sea and (presumably) the same whale was seen 22 days later in Spanish waters, also in the Mediterranean. This sighting raised much speculation on the origin of the whale and the reasons for its appearance. It was suggested that the whale originated from the eastern Pacific population and was able to navigate around the north of Canada due to the reduction in size of the Arctic ice cap caused by global warming. This climatic trend would potentially allow these whales to re-colonise their historic range in the North Atlantic.

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