Rare Gray Whale That Vanished from Atlantic Spotted in New England for First Time in Over 200 Years; Deets inside

A gray whale, thought to have vanished from the Atlantic Ocean over two centuries ago, has been spotted again in the waters off the coast of New England.

Published on Mar 06, 2024  |  08:21 PM IST |  27.3K
(Image Courtesy: New England Aquarium)
Image Courtesy: New England Aquarium
Key Highlight
  • A gray whale, absent from Atlantic waters for over 200 years spotted off the New England coast
  • Experts attribute the whale's return to warming temperatures altering the Northwest Passage

Scientists confirmed the sighting of a gray whale off the coast of New England, signaling the species' return to Atlantic waters after a two-century absence. The extraordinary discovery sheds light on the effects of climate change on marine life and emphasizes the dynamic nature of ocean ecosystems as per US News. 

Unprecedented sighting: Gray Whale rediscovered 

On March 1, researchers from Boston's New England Aquarium made a groundbreaking discovery while conducting aerial surveys south of Nantucket, Massachusetts. The sighting, a rare occurrence, astounded scientists who initially questioned their findings. 

"I didn’t want to say out loud what it was, because it seemed crazy," said Orla O'Brien, an associate research scientist at the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life. O'Brien and Research Technician Kat Laemmle photographed the elusive whale over a 45-minute period, confirming its identity as a gray whale. 

Image Courtesy: New England Aquarium

Climate change impact 

Gray whales, which are native to the northern Pacific Ocean, disappeared from Atlantic waters by the 18th century. However, in recent years, the species has been spotted sporadically in the Atlantic and Mediterranean regions.  

The unexpected resurgence is being blamed on climate change, specifically the melting of sea ice in the Northwest Passage, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. 

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"The ocean is a dynamic ecosystem, and you never know what you'll find," O'Brien said. The absence of summer ice in the Northwest Passage has allowed gray whales to migrate to previously inaccessible areas, showing marine species' rapid response to changing environmental conditions. 

Image Courtesy: New England Aquarium

Conservation concerns: Protecting endangered whales 

While the return of the gray whale marks a major ecological event, conservationists remain vigilant about protecting endangered whale species in Atlantic waters.  

The North Atlantic right whale, which is critically endangered with only 360 individuals remaining, faces a number of threats, including vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. 

Environmentalists and lawmakers have increased efforts to mitigate these threats, instituting slow-down zones in high-traffic areas and switching to ropeless lobstering gear to reduce whale entanglements.  

Despite challenges from the fishing industry, advocates emphasize the importance of conservation action in preventing further declines in whale populations. 

"The sighting of the gray whale off New England serves as a reminder of how quickly marine species respond to climate change, given the chance," O'Brien said in a statement. In today's rapidly changing world, coordinated efforts to protect and preserve marine biodiversity are critical to ensuring the health of our oceans for future generations. 

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Know more about Gray Whales:

Where are Gray Whales found?
Gray whales primarily inhabit the northern Pacific Ocean, ranging from the coast of eastern Russia to Baja California, Mexico.

What do Gray Whales eat?
Gray whales are baleen feeders, meaning they filter feed on small crustaceans, such as amphipods and other tiny marine organisms.

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