This is one of those crazy stories that you can hardly believe when you read it. However, it is one that might become more and more common as climate change steams ahead. The title is no joke and no exaggeration. Apparently, a gray whale was spotted off the coast of Israel last month, despite there being “no gray whales” in the Mediterranean Sea or even in the Atlantic Ocean since the 18th century.
Phillip Clapham of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration writes: “There are really only two explanations: that there has been a relict population in the North Atlantic that no one has noticed (virtually impossible), or (more likely) that this whale came down through the ice-free Northwest Passage and is now hopelessly lost.”
So, it looks like this whale, which seems to be the first of its kind in this part of the world since commercial whalers essentially exterminated gray whales there, may not be the last.
Dr. Aviad Scheinin of the Israel Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Center (IMMRAC) says:
Due to the climate changes and the melting of the ice in the Northwest Passage especially during the years 2007-8, a corridor could have been created in the summer, enabling the whale to travel through it to the North Atlantic. In autumn, it may have started to migrate southward as it would do in the Pacific, maintaining the European continental shelf on the left, in a similar manner to the eastern Pacific migration. Instead of turning left to the Gulf of California it may have turned left into the Mediterranean Sea through Gibraltar Straits and all the way to the Eastern Mediterranean.
Gray whales currently live in two population areas, both in the Pacific Ocean. One population, in the western Pacific is critically endangered, with less than 200 individual whales. The other, in the eastern Pacific Ocean, has approximately 20,000 individuals.
What will happen as more and more ice melts in the Northwest Passage and more and more gray whales migrate through it remains to be seen. For now, this whale is completely alone.