Gray whale declared extinct 200 years ago found off New England coast

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A gray whale seen south of Nantucket on March 1, 2024.— New England Aquarium
A gray whale seen south of Nantucket on March 1, 2024.— New England Aquarium 

In a remarkable occurrence, the New England Aquarium aerial survey team recently spotted a grey whale off the coast of New England, a species declared extinct in the Atlantic over 200 years ago.

According to the New England Aquarium aerial survey team, during a routine flight 30 miles south of Nantucket on March 1, Aquarium scientists observed an unusual whale exhibiting feeding behaviour through repeated dives and resurfacing.

Orla O’Brien, an associate research scientist at the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, described the moment, saying: "I didn’t want to say out loud what it was because it seemed crazy." The scientists circled the area for 45 minutes, capturing additional photos that later confirmed the whale's identity as a grey whale.

Research Technician Kate Laemmle, astonished by the sighting, shared her reaction, stating: "My brain was trying to process what I was seeing because this animal was something that should not exist in these waters."

Grey whales, known for their distinct features such as a lack of a dorsal fin, mottled grey and white skin, and dorsal hump, vanished from the Atlantic Ocean by the 18th century. 

However, recent years have seen five observations of grey whales in Atlantic and Mediterranean waters, with scientists speculating that the same whale was sighted off the coast of Florida in December 2023.

Scientists attribute these unusual sightings to climate change, specifically the impact of a relatively ice-free Northwest Passage due to rising global temperatures.