Experts astonished as Grey whale spotted south of equator for first time

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A Grey whale has been spotted in the Atlantic — only the second individual to have been documented there since the Atlantic population was hunted to extinction back in the 1700's. And what's more, this is the first time the species has been seen south of the equator.

According to a blog on the Namibian Dolphin Project's website, the whale was spotted for the first time by a tour boat in Walvis Bay in Namibia on May 4, and several other sightings of the animal have been reported since. Its identity was confirmed on May 12, making it the first known record of a Grey whale in the Southern Hemisphere.

In 2010 a Grey whale was spotted in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Israel, causing huge excitement. Scientists were puzzled as to how the whale might have traveled from the Pacific to the North Atlantic — its most likely entry point to the Mediterranean. The event was described by one scientist as "the most amazing sighting in the history of whales," so doubt this latest one will create even more excitement.

The Walvis Bay animal is not thought to be the same one spotted in 2010. It's not known what route this new whale took to get to the Atlantic, but it's now thought likely that both of them travelled through the Northwest Passage, which has had less ice over the past few years due to the effects of global warming. If so, conservationists say that Grey whales could eventually recolonise their historic range in the North Atlantic.

Does this mean that the species is recovering and returning — or is it a case of climate change affecting their feeding habits?

NOAA Grey whale expert Wayne Perryman told Pete Thomas Outdoors: "I think it's just blind luck for a whale to get through. It's like a maze up there. My guess is that it was feeding and looking for food, and when ice formed behind it the whale probably just kept going. These animals are ranging farther north and east to find food so that makes the most sense."

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