DNA analysis has shown that a grey whale first seen off the South West African coast, originated in a population off the eastern coast of Asia.
This grey whale in question was spotted off the coast of Namibia by scientists. Given where they are usually found, they wanted to check what was going on so took a DNA sample.
The sighting is exciting, as it suggests that grey whales collectively have memory of long unused breeding grounds, or are merely exploring beyond their current range.
Even more exciting, this male was found to likely come from the North pacific population, a highly endangered population with only 200 members.
Now while from this populations point of view, a female migrating the other way would have been more useful, it suggests that there is far more mixing across huge distances than was previously known.
Perhaps as the pressures of whaling fade into history, these animals will return. It is true that whaling is not yet being left in the past. Norway Iceland and Japan all still have small whaling industries. However, provided whaling is kept at this level, or reduces over time the vast majority of whales will be unaffected. It is important that whaling (even in these limited numbers) stays clear of certain species; for instance northern right whales still only number around 200 in the wild, so even hunting at the levels we will have could push this species to extinction.
Any decision on which species can be hunted must come down to science. It is irrelevant if a people have hunted a specific whale for centuries, if they would exterminate the rest of its species.
Whales should be allowed to recover to previous levels. They are also capable of sequestering carbon in large quantities, both from their dead bodies and waste. We need them to thrive – both for their benefit and for ours.