Some 20,000 gray whales roam the eastern Pacific from Alaska to Baja California. Less than 200 also ply the waters from the Sea of Okhotsk to southern Korea. A third population swam the North Atlantic until the 17th or 18th century, then disappeared at the dawn of the New England whaling industry. Evidence indicates that no grays have been seen on the Atlantic side in some 300 years.
Until now. A solitary gray whale was spotted in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Israel in early May of this year. By month’s end, the whale had crossed the Mediterranean and was (tail) spotted near Barcelona, Spain.
How this particular cetacean got there remains a mystery. Scientists theorize that the whale may have swum through broken polar ice, then traveled down the coast of Europe to the Mediterranean. Where the whale goes from here is anyone’s guess, but many hope this solitary traveler heralds the species’ return to the Atlantic.