A grey whale that has strayed far from the Pacific has been spotted for the first time off the French Mediterranean coast. The calf, about 15 months old and 8 metres long, was spotted at the weekend in the port of Bormes-les-Mimosas on the French Riviera.
The whale calf had already been seen off Morocco in early March and more recently Italy, from Naples, Rome and Genoa.
It has strayed into the Mediterranean Sea, from which it is trying to return to its natural habitat in the North Pacific.
"A specimen had already been observed in 2010 in the Mediterranean, on two occasions, but in Israel and Spain, this is a first for our French coast," said Adrien Gannier, veterinarian and member of the National Network of Marine Mammal Strandings, who himself observed the young whale on Friday off Bormes-les-Mimosas in southern France.
The presence of this species in such waters is quite unusual as its population lives for the most part between Baja California in winter and Alaska in summer.
"It is possible that this whale, born in California, got lost in the Beaufort Sea during its first feeding season and that instead of going back down to the Pacific, it took the Atlantic before finding itself trapped in the Mediterranean," explains Gannier, who is also a member of the Groupe de recherches sur les Cetaces (Grec), an association based in Antibes.
Evacuated from the port of Bormes-les-Mimosas
First seen in Antibes and then in Mandelieu-La Napoule on Thursday, in the Alpes-Maritimes department, it was then seen in the port of Bormes-les-Mimosas on Friday, from where the port authorities managed to get it back out to sea.
"We then accompanied it on its journey westwards and left it one nautical mile from Cap Benat," said Gannier, who hopes that the whale calf will continue its journey towards the Gulf of Lion and then the Spanish coast before leaving the Mediterranean at Gibraltar and then heading up the Atlantic.
"It seems to be in fairly good health but thinned out because its feeding habits are not suitable for the Mediterranean."
This animal feeds on invertebrates in muddy sand, which is rare in the region.