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Lost Pacific grey whale swimming off the coast of Spain not likely to survive, says expert

The young mammal, who likely swam through the Arctic into the Northern Atlantic by accident, is being tracked by biologists who worry it will not survive so far from home.

Young mammal probably swam through melted Arctic sea ice into Northern Atlantic by accident

A grey whale, not the one shown in this image, is currently being tracked through the Mediterranean Sea after accidently swimming outside its Pacific Ocean habitat. (Dario Lopez-Mills/AP)

A Pacific grey whale that took a wrong turn and ended up in the Mediterranean Sea has a slim chance of surviving, says a long-time whale researcher with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

For about a month, French biologists have been tracking the emaciated whale which has been spotted in Italy and France and is now swimming off the coast of Spain.

The young mammal is about two years old, approximately eight metres long, and very far from its home on the Pacific Coast where grey whales migrate between Mexico and Alaska and eat crustaceans they find by feeding along the ocean's floor.

"That kind of habitat really is not present in the Mediterranean," said Canadian researcher John Ford. "It's really not a viable place for them."

Ford said the whale has lost a lot of weight during its misadventure and the sea it is in right now does not have the kind of soft bottom required to provide the food it depends on.

"It's prospects aren't good," he said, speaking Thursday on CBC's On The Island.

Grey whales frequent the waters of Baja California Sur state, Mexico, pictured, to breed and nurse their calves each year after migrating thousands of miles from Canada and Alaska. (Omar Torres/AFP via Getty Images)

But how did it get there?

How the whale made it into European water is unclear.

Pacific grey whales do feed in the Bering Sea and Ford said it is likely melting sea ice in the Canadian Arctic cleared a pathway for the confused young whale to keep heading east into the Northern Atlantic. 

Another possibility is that it went around Northern Russia.

"We'll never know," said Ford.

Grey whales have not lived in the Northern Atlantic since before the 1700s when intensive whaling wiped them out.

According to Ford, there have been only two other sightings of grey whales who swam off course in the last decade or so. One was sighted off the coast of Israel and then Spain in 2010 and another off the coast of Namibia in 2013.

Both of those whales, said Ford, eventually disappeared from sight and their fate remains unknown.

He said this whale may have a chance at survival if it makes it to the Baltic Sea where shallow coastal waters could provide the food it desperately needs.

"There is really, unfortunately, not too much we can do for this whale," he said.

A human rescue of the massive mammal is not possible, said Ford, and the best thing people can do for it is leave it alone.

Gregor Craigie spoke with a whale researcher John Ford, about a Pacific Grey whale that has found itself swimming along the Italian, French, and Spanish Mediterranean coasts. 9:18

With files from On The Island


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