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How this can be possible? Baja Cali whale (Pacific Ocean)wandering Israeli and Spain coast

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06/11/2010 01:14 PM
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How this can be possible? Baja Cali whale (Pacific Ocean)wandering Israeli and Spain coast
[link to www.timescolonist.com]

VICTORIA The wandering grey whale that bewildered scientists after appearing off the coast of Israel last month is now paying a visit to northeastern Spain.

The sighting near Barcelona Harbour means the whale, believed to be one that would normally swim past Vancouver Island, travelled about 3,000 kilometres since it was last spotted 23 days earlier.

The whale appeared to be heading south, possibly toward the Strait of Gibraltar, and researchers are on the alert for further sightings, said Nicola Hodgins of the U.K.-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society in a news release.

"Where it's heading is the burning question. Its likely route would be to leave the Mediterranean and then head north along the coasts of Portugal and France, possibly coming as far north as the U.K. and North Atlantic waters," she said.

Grey whales have been officially extinct in the Atlantic Ocean since the late 1700s, which is why researchers are perplexed by the animal's appearance in the Mediterranean.

Although scientists have not been able to positively identify where the 12-metre whale came from, the most likely scenario is that it's part of the population that would normally swim past Vancouver Island, migrating from birthing lagoons in Mexico to the Bering Sea, and that it swam through the Northwest Passage in an increasingly ice-free Arctic.

There are about 20,000 animals in the northeast Pacific population and about 100 in the western Pacific population, which migrates between the Russian coast and north China.

Among those watching the whale with interest is John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research in Olympia, Wash.

"The most likely (scenario) is that it went over the top, through the Arctic, but I can't make sense of the timing," said Calambokidis, who has not found a match for the whale in his photo collection of 1,000 greys.

There is speculation the whale was following food some observers say there are signs populations are dropping, possibly because warming waters mean less food. The tiny marine life they thrive on needs cooler temperatures to survive.

But Calambokidis said the behaviour of one animal does not make a trend, adding mortality numbers this year seem about normal.

"I tend to become more concerned when I see things that are affecting a population and not so much when it's one individual," he said.

Although official counts remain relatively stable following a major die-off in 1999 and 2000 with poor feeding conditions as one factor whale-watchers in Baja California say the number of calves is down and other researchers report there are fewer grey whales than usual off the coast of Vancouver Island and the B.C. central coast.

Howard Garrett of Orca Network, who is also watching the Mediterranean whale with interest, said he's hearing anecdotal reports of fewer calves and has seen more greys coming into inland waters this year.

"They are looking for food in all the wrong places, so it would make sense that this guy (in the Mediterranean) just went along following food," he said.

Read more: [link to www.timescolonist.com]
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