World's First: Researchers Discover Northern Pacific Gray Whale In Southern Hemisphere
May 17, 2013

World’s First: Researchers Discover Northern Pacific Gray Whale In Southern Hemisphere

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Scientists from the Namibian Dolphin Project working off the coast of Namibia in southwest Africa have spotted a North Pacific gray whale there, marking the first time the giant mammal has ever been observed south of the equator.

In 2010, a North Pacific gray whale was confirmed to have wandered into the Mediterranean Sea, but scientists speculated it had arrived via the increasingly ice-free Northwest Passage.

The significance of the current sighting has caused considerable excitement among marine biologists, and may suggest the great whales are recovering from the tragic hunts of the 20th century that reduced them to near extinction.

John Paterson of the Walvis Bay Strandings Network told The Guardian that tour boats first sighted the whale while on dolphin watch on May 4th.

The "strange whale" was confirmed and photographed eight days later by a member of his team.

"The question is now, what is origin of this whale? [sic]" Paterson said, adding that the photographs prove the whale is not the same one that turned up in the Mediterranean.

"Is it another individual that has traverse [sic] the North-west Passage, or perhaps travelled around the southern tip of South America and across the Atlantic? Unfortunately, we'll never know the route it followed to get here," noted Paterson.

Historically, the gray whales have dwelt in the northern Atlantic, but may have migrated south to the warmer waters of Mediterranean to calve. Those waters would also be relatively free of orca, the gray whales´ only natural predator.

The southern African gray whale is only the latest instance of whales being observed where they should not be. In Cape Cod Bay off New England last year an aerial reconnaissance team from the Provincetown Centre for Coastal Studies surveying the north Atlantic right whales feeding in the bay were shocked to find a bowhead whale — a strictly Arctic cetacean.

Scientists have attributed this to climate change and shifting ice, which is also thought to be responsible for the Mediterranean gray whale, which may have crossed from the north Pacific to the Atlantic via the Northwest Passage.