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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Follow rare whale’s route along Oregon

WILDLIFE WATCHING -- Satellite technology is allowing whale enthusiasts to click here and join researchers in tracking a type of gray whale that spends summers off Russia as it makes its way along the Oregon coast.

Researchers attached a satellite tag to a 13-year-old, male western Pacific gray whale known as Flex on Oct. 4. The whale moved east across the Bering Sea and south through the Aleutian Islands into the Gulf of Alaska.

Read on for details.

On Jan. 27, Flex was detected about 400 miles off the coast of British Columbia. Five days later it was 280 miles west of Vancouver Island, having moved from deep water off the continental shelf to shallow water off the northwest tip of Washington.

The whale kept swimming south at just more than 4 mph and on Monday was detected south of Lincoln City, Ore.

"That’s about 15 miles north of my laboratory at the Hatfield Marine Science Center," said Bruce Mate, director of Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, noting the irony of having to travel to Russia last year to tag the whale only to have it show up nearly at his doorstep.  Mate was quoted in an Associated Press story that moved this afternoon.

The location is changing scientists’ perception for western Pacific gray whales but does not mean the entire stock heads east in winter.

Only 130 of the western Pacific gray whales remain. The stock is genetically distinct from eastern Pacific gray whales that spend summers feeding off Alaska and winters breeding and giving birth off Mexico. About 18,000 of those whales remain.

Western Pacific gray whales are the second-most threatened species of large whales after North Pacific right whales.

Western Pacific gray whales spend summers near Sahkalin Island at the south end of the Sea of Okhotsk near Russia. The whale researchers are following is out about twice as far from the Oregon Coast as the path used by the eastern gray whales.

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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