The gray whale or Eschrichtius robustus is one of the balleen whales that feeds on plankton it sieves through the balleen plates embedded in its jaw. There were three large populations of gray whales, but the North Atlantic gray whales were assumed to have been hunted to extinction in the 18th century, while the American population is fairly healthy, the Asian gray whales of the North Pacific are endangered. The gray is famous in particular for its extensive annual migration, the longest migration of any whale, and one of the world's longest migrations of any species in yearly round trip of 15,000-20,000 kilometers. The gray whale spends a fair amount of time relatively near the coastline, and can often be spotted on its seasonal migrations, even from land, identified by the gray color, the size, the double-blow hole, and the whale's habit of "spy hopping," as in the embedded image.
This week, researchers Israel's Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Centre (IMMRAC) photographed and positively identified a gray whale off the coast of Israel, near Herzliya Marina. It's more likely that this is a Pacific gray that has found its way, perhaps via underwater oceanic channels, to the coast of Israel than that it is a remainder of the original population. But its presence is vastly reassuring to researchers and and Israelis, who hope that it may be a single individual of a larger resident group, since gray whales tend to form close personal ties with their fellows, and travel in herds.