Gray whale in the news

Image credit: Chris Huh

In case you missed it, a gray whale has been consistently making the news in the last month. Why? Because this story isn’t about our fabulous Eastern Pacific gray whales, you know the ones we always hear about migrating past California’s coast. There’s usually about 20,000 of them swimming by every year.

This story is about a Western Pacific gray whale, one of only 130 left. You see there are two distinct populations of gray whales, the Eastern Pacific gray whales that summer up near Alaska and travel south to breed and give birth off Baja California. And then there’s the Western Pacific gray whales that summer off Russia’s coast and migrate south to somewhere off Asia, but no one really knows where exactly. Well, at least everyone always assumed it was Asia.

To find out more about the remaining 130 Western Pacific gray whales, Bruce Mate, director of Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, traveled with his research team all the way to Russia to tag several gray whales. But the weather was not very cooperative and ultimately they could only tag one.

Now they have been tracking this lone Western Pacific gray whale dubbed Flex. And Flex has turned out to be very unpredictable. Instead of heading south to somewhere off Asia’s coast as predicted, he cut east across the Bering Sea then headed to the Gulf of Alaska and then south close to Vancouver and on to Washington and then Oregon. Ultimately, if Bruce Mate had waited he could have tagged this whale much closer to home, but who knew?

Most recent tracking reports indicate Flex is off the coast of Northern California. Is he trying to meet up with his Eastern Pacific gray whale cousins? We don’t really know. But just because Flex high tailed it to North America doesn’t mean that all Western Pacific gray whales do the same…at least we don’t think they do…

If you want to read more of the details, just Google “Flex the gray whale” and read all about it.

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