The 8-metre whale calf – which is thought to be about 15 months old – has been popping up at various spots in the past months. It had already been observed in Morocco at the beginning of March and in Italy in recent weeks, in Naples, Rome and Genoa.
In all likelihood, it has strayed into the Mediterranean, a sea from which it is trying to emerge 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, a vet and member of the network, who saw the young whale on Friday off Bormes-les-Mimosas (south-east France).
The presence of this species in such waters is quite unusual as most of its population lives 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 travelled across the Atlantic before finding itself trapped in the Mediterranean,” Gannier explained.
First seen in Antibes and then in Mandelieu-La Napoule on Thursday, in the Alpes-Maritimes, 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 Cape Bénat,” 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 back up the Atlantic.
“It seems to be in fairly good health but thinned out because its feeding habits are not suitable for the Mediterranean,” explains the vet.
This animal feeds on invertebrates in the muddy sand, which is rare in the region.