IrvineLaddHMSCCriticallyEndangeredWesternGrayWhales.pdf Public Deposited

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  • Western North Pacific gray whales (WGWs), once considered extinct, are critically endangered with unknown migratory routes and reproductive areas. We attached satellite-monitored tags to seven WGWs on their primary feeding ground off Sakhalin Island, Russia, three of which subsequently migrated to regions occupied by non-endangered eastern gray whales (EGWs). A female with the longest-lasting tag visited all three major EGW reproductive areas off Baja California, Mexico, before returning to Sakhalin Island the following spring. Her 22,511 km round-trip is the longest documented mammal migration and strongly suggests that some presumed WGWs are actually EGWs foraging in areas historically attributed to WGWs. The observed migration routes provide evidence of navigational skills across open water that break the near-shore north-south migratory paradigm of EGWs. Despite evidence of genetic differentiation, these tagging data indicate that the population identity of whales off Sakhalin Island needs further evaluation.
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