Rare Pacific gray whale tracked on migration from Russia had previously been in North American waters
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Marine researchers say a rare whale tracked across the Pacific Ocean into North American waters this year had been there before.
Photo analysis has confirmed that the highly endangered western Pacific gray whale dubbed Flex -- one of only 130 remaining -- was photographed in 2008 off Canada's Vancouver Island and was assumed to be part of the eastern gray whale population.
U.S and Russian researchers started tracking the male whale Oct. 4 when they tagged him with a satellite tracker off Sakhalin Island, Russia, as part of research into where the animals spend winters.
The whale left Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula on Jan. 3 and began swimming east. It swam halfway across the Bering Sea, turned southand swam between Aleutian Islands into the Gulf of Alaska. It continued southeast to shallow coastal waters off Washington and Oregon. Its last confirmed location was Feb. 4 off Siletz Bay, Ore., where researchers believe the satellite tag fell off. The whale had traveled 5,335 miles over 124 days.
The project stirred the interest of other whale researchers, said Dave Weller, a marine mammal ecologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla.