Hope Rides on Tagged Gray Whale

An electronic tag attached to a single western gray whale may lead to conservation of one of the world’s most endangered whale populations. Bruce Mate, director of Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, affixed the tag to the animal, a male known as “Flex,” last summer off Sakhalin Island, Russia, in the western Pacific.

Mate has pioneered the tracking of whales through devices that can adhere to whales for hundreds of days, communicate with satellites and relay their locations on a daily basis (see “Tracking the Great Whales,” Terra, summer 2006). “Not a lot is known about western gray whales, so finding out where they migrate to breed and calve, so we can add some measures of protection, will be a tremendous step forward in their recovery,” says Mate.

Mate and his colleagues have created a map of Flex’s progress that is updated every Monday. As of January 31, 2011, he had surprised scientists by traveling to the eastern Pacific where he would be likely to encounter gray whales that migrate along the West Coast of North America.

The international scientific expedition was conducted through the A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences and contracted through the International Whaling Commission with funding from Exxon Neftegas Ltd. and the Sakhalin Energy Investment Company.