For a while it seemed as though the remarkable odyssey of a tagged whale from Russia would include a visit to waters off Cabo San Lucas on Baja California's tip.
But Varvara, a Western Pacific gray whale whose cross-ocean journey began at Sakhalin Island off Russia's eastern shore, appears to have stopped short of Land's End by about 60 miles, before turning back to the north.
Her position as of Monday, according to an update issued by Oregon State University's Marine Mammal Institute, was at the northern end of Magdalena Bay (see graphic).
Magdalena Bay is one of a handful of bays or lagoons utilized by about 20,000 Eastern Pacific gray whales for nursing and mating, after a long migration from Arctic feeding waters.
Varvara's journey is the longest and most significant of any tagged whale from the critically endangered Western Pacific gray whale population, because it provides more evidence that at least some of those 130 or so whales are also migrating to Baja California lagoons.
Varvara's trip follows that a year earlier of Flex, a male Western Pacific gray whale who surprised scientists when he crossed the Bering Sea and joined with Eastern Pacific grays during their southbound migration. The tag worn by Flex, however, stopped transmitting off southern Oregon.
Last summer, scientists David Weller and Amanda Bradford presented a paper showing that four Western Pacific gray whales, cataloged as part of a photo-identification study, had turned up in Baja's renowned San Ignacio Lagoon.
Despite this mixing, the Western Pacific population is considered genetically distinct.
-- Pete Thomas
Note from the Marine Mammal Institute: "This research was conducted by A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IEE RAS) and Oregon State University Marine Mammal Institute in collaboration with the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, Kronotsky State Nature Biosphere Reserve and the Kamchatka Branch of the Pacific Institute of Geography. The research was contracted through the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) with funding from Exxon Neftegas Ltd. and Sakhalin Energy Investment Company Ltd."