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Gray whales making waves on West Coast

Alaska Dispatch

A gray whale originating from the western Pacific Ocean has found its way to the West Coast of North America, slowly migrating north back toward its home in the waters off of Russia, according to scientists at Oregon State University.

Endangered western gray whales rarely cross the Pacific to join the much larger eastern gray whale population. The eastern gray whale already undergoes the longest marine mammal migration in the world, from Mexico's Baja Peninsula all the way up to the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic and back.

The 9-year-old gray whale currently working its way up the West Coast, dubbed Varvara by biologists, traveled from the Russian island of Sakhalin across the Pacific to the waters off of Canada before migrating south to Mexico. In the last week, she's traveled from Fort Bragg in northern California to Vancouver Island. See more tracking, at Oregon State University's Marine Mammal Institute.

The eastern gray whale migration north began in February, and the whales begin passing through Southcentral Alaska waters around April. The migration is spread out, with simultaneous sightings occuring on the west coast of the U.S. and Alaska simultaneously.

In other gray whale news, a mother and calf that inadvertantly swam into San Francisco Bay are making headlines of their own. Scientists theorize that the presence of the calf -- a young one to be spotted in northern California, since gray whales typically give birth in lagoons farther south -- could be a bellwether for climate change.

Scientists believe that retreating Arctic ice may be driving the gray whales farther north to find ideal feeding grounds, or they're staying north later in the year, which could explain why the calf in San Francisco Bay is younger than biologists would expect a calf to be at this stage in the migration.

Read much more, at the New York Times.