“Extinct” grey whale sighted off Israeli coast, 8,000 nautical miles from home. Lost or making a comeback thanks to global warming? (In the above video, Israelis taking the video are calling for Willie to show his/her tail.)
Sighting any kind of whale in the Mediterranean Sea is a novelty. But when a whale sighting turns out to be of a grey whale, said to be instinct in this part of the world, then this event is something that has many scientists excited as well as baffled.When this whale was seen off the Israeli coastal city of Herzliya, it really created a buzz since the species has been extinct in the North Atlantic since the 17th or 18th century.
The whale, said to be a mature adult measuring around 12 meters or 39 feet, is now mainly found in the North Pacific Ocean. It may have swam across the “Northwest-Passage” between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, due to the amount of ice there being less now due possibly to global warming.
How it got into the warmer waters of the Mediterranean is matter of speculation; but those studying the habits of such sea creatures say it may have been looking for warmer waters to calve in, like they normally do off the Baja California coast. And the Mediterranean, being warmer, may have confused this individual who was already a bit off course.
After all, Tel Aviv, Beirut or Gaza City are not exactly La Paz Mexico.
Regarding the Northwest-Passage, a National Geographic in September, 2007 reported that this fabled shipping route was now “ice free for the first time since satellite records began in 1978.”
If “Willie” the whale (as some people are now naming him) did swim this route into the North Atlantic; and then to the eastern Mediterranean, it would have traveled a distance of more than 8,000 nautical miles.
We were shocked,” said Oz Goffman, an expert in marine biology and animal behavior with the Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Center at Haifa University in an interview on CNN. “They are not animals that we are supposed to see in our area.”
Whatever its reason for winding up off the Med’s eastern coastline, this “leviathan” (as whales are known in Hebrew) could wind up being beneficial to the waters in which it is now swimming: In my recent article about the benefits of whale excrement or “poop” being rich in iron (as much as 12 per cent), I explored how iron comes from small, shrimp-like crustacean known as krill. The krill feed on iron-rich algae and are in turn eaten by whales and other marine animals. Did Willie read my article?
What “Willie” is finding to eat in his new habitat is not clear, although marine biologists say that grey whales eat a number of different kinds of small marine life, including crabs, squid, and fish that they find on the seabed and strain out through baleen or plates in their jaws.
Whether this lone whale might be the beginning of a regeneration of its species in waters where it hasn’t been for centuries is not certain; though efforts are being made to track it and even obtain some DNA from its skin in order to determine Willie’s habitat origin.
For the time being any way, Willie and his (or her) poop will be welcome in the Mediterranean. Let’s just hope it doesn’t scoop up too much of the plastic material and other debris common in our waters, thinking that it’s food.
Read more on marine life in the Mediterranean:
Iron Rich Whale Poop Essential for Middle East Marine Habitats
Rare Sea Turtles and Other Wild Life Living Happily on Persian Gulf Atoll
Lebanese Sidon Dump more Serious Than just the Smell