Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Rare Gray Whale Mixes into the Crowd off San Diego by Mike Lee

A gray whale has crossed the ocean from Russia to San Diego, raising scientific questions about relationships between whale populations on both edges of the world's largest ocean.

The whale, an 8.5-year-old female named Varvara, swam from Sakhalin Island on Asia's east coast to Canadian waters before traveling south with gray whales migrating from Alaska to Baja California. She is being tracked using a satellite tag by the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, which located her in local waters late last week, along with counterparts in Russia.

Here's how the research group described Varvara's movements through Sunday: "Varvara traveled from Cape Mendocino in northern California to the U.S./Mexican border ... using a combination of nearshore and offshore routes. Going through the Southern California Bight, she threaded her way between several of the Channel Islands in what would not be described as nearshore, while also not skirting the west side of the more westerly island."

Bruce Mate, who directs the Marine Mammal Institute, said in a Monday interview that Varvara has crossed into Mexico and may mate in Baja waters this year.

Last year, a western gray whale named Flex drew international attention for a similar migration, but researchers lost track of him well to the north of San Diego.

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