(whale) M. P. Heide-Jorgensen; (map) M. P. Heide-Jorgensen et al., Biol. Lett. (2011)

ScienceShot: A Whale Tête-à-Tête in the Northwest Passage

The impassable glaciers of the Northwest Passage through Canada drove 19th century European explorers to madness, but decades of global warming have created a nice passageway for whales to rush in where adventurers feared to tread. Researchers studying bowhead whale migration patterns searched through 10 years of data from 122 whales they had tagged with satellite transmitters. They spotted one adventurous young whale entering the passage from the east in 2002, and another from the west in 2006. But each time, sea ice blocked both whales from crossing entirely. Then in September 2010, a summer when sea ice was extremely low, two male whales entered the passage from opposite directions, and for a short time their paths overlapped. For about 2 weeks, they were within 130 km of each other, only 48 hours of swimming for a whale, the researchers report today in Biology Letters. Although their rendezvous shows that it's possible for a whale to cross the passage some summers, both of these intrepid explorers went home soon after. Apparently they were just saying hello to a population they hadn't seen for millennia.

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