A gray whale that was sighted off the coast of Namibia in early May was the first-ever appearance of the marine mammal south of the equator.The species has been extinct in the Atlantic since the 18th century and has been mainly confined to the North Pacific. One was also sighted in the Mediterranean in May 2010.
Experts say this could suggest the leviathan is recovering from the disastrous whaling hunts that ended in the 20th century, or it could mean changing climate is disrupting its feeding habits.
Another possibility is that the increasing population of the gray whale could be allowing it to regain some of its ancient migratory routes.
“The question is now, what is the origin of this whale,” said John Paterson of the Walvis Bay Strandings Network.
He said photographs taken of it prove it is not the same individual that turned up in the Mediterranean.
“Is it another individual that has traversed the Northwest Passage, or perhaps travelled around the southern tip of South America and across the Atlantic?” asked Paterson.
“Unfortunately, we’ll never know the route it followed to get here.”
Gray whales grow up to 45 feet in length and undertake the longest known migration of any mammal.
They complete a round trip of over 18,000 miles between their summer feeding grounds in the high Arctic and winter breeding area off the coast of Mexico, then usually return to the high Arctic.
Photo: John Paterson Albatross Task Force Namibia