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California Gray Whale Sighting Off Of Israel Raises Climate Change Concerns

SAN DIEGO (CBS) - The sighting of a gray whale off the coast of Israel has scientists concerned about what it could mean for climate change.

The whale was spotted on May 8, 2010, spotted off the coast of Israel in the Mediterranean Sea, according to San Diego's CBS affiliate.

"We actually think it belongs to what's known as the California population of gray whales and that it's actually a stray," said Dr. David Weller of the NOAA Southwest Fisheries.

Scientists believe the Mediterranean sighting may signal a change in migration for the species. Grey whales have not been spotted in the Atlantic Ocean since the 18th Century when they became extinct there for unknown reasons.

"We may see a reoccupation of the Atlantic by species that haven't been there in quite some time," Dr. Weller said.

Migration along North America's West coast is common, as a large pod, numbering around 20,000 whales, has a yearly migration route between Alaska and Baja California. Scientists believe this whale could have traveled through the Northwest Passage when sea ice melted in 2007, allowing for it to navigate the seas to the shores of Israel.

"We are seeing a cascading effect of all of the ecology across the Arctic. And what the gray whale has shown us . . . is that animals are acting as indicators of climate change. They're showing us what can now be done and what they're capable of. The consequences are yet to be determined," Dr. Weller said.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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