Whale Sparks Climate Debate With Record 17,000-Mile Migration

A gray whale’s record journey from the North Pacific to the waters off southwest Africa indicates the behavior of the species has been impacted by climate change.

The whale traveled 27,000 kilometers (16,777 miles) -- a record migration for a member of the cetacean family -- to where it was first sighted off the coast of Namibia in 2013. The whale’s genome has now been sequenced, showing that it was born in the North Pacific, according to a team of researchers from the U.K.’s Durham University and the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.

“What we don’t know, however, is whether this remarkable long migration is just accidental vagrancy, or whether its presence in the Atlantic represents a foraging excursion, permitted by passage through the Arctic pack ice,” Rus Hoelzel, an evolutionary biologist who carried out the sequencing, said in a statement on Wednesday.

The gray whale was until recently presumed extinct in the Atlantic, with the last known sighting in Namibian waters being reported by whalers in the 1740s. The whale’s presence, along with several sightings in the North Atlantic over the past decade, indicates possible movement due to global warming.

“The most likely travel route for the Namibian whale was via the Arctic, a passage only made possible due to the receding ice flows attributed to climate change in recent years,” the researchers said in the same statement.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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