Gray whale spotted in the Atlantic for first time in 200 years

New England Aquarium

The New England Aquarium’s aerial survey team caught an amazingly rare glimpse of a gray whale swimming approximately 30 miles south of Nantucket last week during their flight. You might be thinking, “Don’t whales live in the ocean?” Yes, but the gray whale has not been spotted in the Atlantic Ocean for over 200 years — and seeing one swimming and feeding in these waters left the team downright giddy.

“My brain was trying to process what I was seeing, because this animal was something that should not really exist in these waters,” research technician Kate Laemmle, who was on the plane, said in the aquarium’s press release. “We were laughing because of how wild and exciting this was — to see an animal that disappeared from the Atlantic hundreds of years ago!”

MORE: Gray whale that lost its tail developed a unique way to swim

gray whale
New England Aquarium

The New England Aquarium explains that gray whales are typically found in the North Pacific Ocean, but by the 18th century, gray whales vanished from the Atlantic Ocean. In December 2023, a gray whale was spotted near the Florida coast, and New England Aquarium scientists believe it was the same whale they just saw swimming last week.

While it’s exciting news to see the gray whale resurface here, the downside is that scientists believe its appearance in this area of the ocean is due to climate change.

gray whale

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The aquarium explained this correlation in their statement.

“The Northwest Passage, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific through the Arctic Ocean in Canada, has regularly been ice-free in the summertime in recent years, partly due to rising global temperatures,” the statement reads. “The extent of the sea ice typically limits the species range of gray whales, experts say, as the whales cannot break through the thick winter ice that usually blocks the Passage. Now, gray whales can potentially travel the Passage in the summer, something that wouldn’t have been possible in the previous century.”

If you’re a fan of rare and amazing sightings of ocean dwellers, check out how thrilled researchers were to spy what could have been a baby great white shark.

Animals, News, Science & Nature, Wild Animals
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Beth Shea
Beth Shea is an editor and versatile writer with a wealth of experience covering topics including family, travel, design, culture, pets and lifestyle. Her work has appeared in multiple print and online publications including Forbes, Apartment Therapy, Tinybeans, Chewy and American Express Open Forum. In her free time, Beth is a soccer mom of two, a doting dog mom and a Peloton addict who loves reading, coffee and the beach.

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