Scientists see big ‘scientific event’ as Pacific whales turn up far from home (Edmonton Journal)


From: Edmonton Journal

OJO DE LIEBRE LAGOON, Mexico – When scientists fired a cigar-sized satellite tag into the blubber of a western gray whale off Russia’s Sakhalin Island in September, they expected to track her along Asia’s Pacific shoreline down to the South China Sea.

To their surprise, the young female turned up off of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.


The sudden travel bug that infected Varvara, the 9-year-old female now meandering in waters near Baja’s Magdalena Bay, has deepened a mystery that has scientists the world over pondering what is happening to a tiny population of critically endangered western gray whales. Only 130 of the whales remain, feeding off of Sakhalin Island, not far from two offshore oil platforms.


Western Gray Whales Surprise Scientific Community by Travelling the World

Whale scientists had long thought that endangered western gray whales only migrated along coasts.  They were wrong. Satellite-tagged travels of the female Varvara and other monitored migrations demonstrate that grays are not restricted to coastal travel but can cross oceans and seas.

Varvara, who started out off Sakhalin Island in September 2011, swam to Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Other grey whales have been spotted off Israel’s Herzliya Marina; near Barcelona, Spain; and in the far north Atlantic.


Endangered whales are crossing the Pacific (IUCN)

Endangered whales are crossing the Pacific

From: IUCN

09 January 2012 | News story

Two female western gray whales, Agent and Varvara, left the coast of Russia late last year and are now half-way across the Gulf of Alaska. For the second consecutive year, an international team of scientists successfully tagged endangered whales off Sakhalin Island and the team is now tracking the animals via satellite.

The western gray whale population is listed as critically endangeredon the IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM. The estimated population size in 2010 was about 136 whales, including only around 30 mature females. Little is currently known about the migration routes and wintering areas of this population. Knowing more about their movements will make it easier to develop appropriate conservation measures.