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EcoAlert: Gray Whales follow Food Source to Places It hasn't been in 800,000 Years

Gray_whale When a 43-foot gray whale was sighted off the Israeli town of Herzliya last year, scientists came to a concluded that It must have crossed the normally icebound route above Canada, where warm weather briefly opened a clear channel three years earlier. Below the ocean's surface, scientists have found plankton in the North Atlantic where it had not existed for at least 800,000 years.

The whale's odyssey and the surprising appearance of the plankton indicate a migration of species through the Northwest Passage, a clear sign of how global warming is affecting animals and plants in the oceans as well as on land.

"The implications are enormous. It's a threshold that has been crossed," said Philip Reid of the Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science in Plymouth, England. "It's an indication of the speed of change that is taking place in our world in the present day because of climate change," he added in a telephone interview Friday.

Reid said the last time the world witnessed such a major incursion from the Pacific was 2 million years ago, which had "a huge impact on the North Atlantic," driving some species to extinction as the newcomers dominated the competition for food.

Reid's study of plankton and the research on the whale, co-authored by Aviad Scheinin of the Israel Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Center, are among nearly 300 scientific papers written during the last 13 years that are being synthesized and published this year by Project Clamer, a collaboration of 17 institutes on climate change and the oceans.

Changes in the oceans' chemistry and temperature could have implications for fisheries, as species migrate northward to cooler waters, said Katja Philippart of the Royal Netherlands Institute of Sea Research, who is coordinating the project funded by the European Union.

"We don't say whether it's bad or good. We say there is a high potential for change," she said.

The Northwest Passage, the route through the frigid archipelago from Alaska across northern Canada, has been ice-free from one end to the other only twice in recorded history, in 1998 and 2007. But the ice pack is retreating farther and more frequently in summer.

Plankton that previously had been found only in Atlantic seabed cores from 800,000 years ago appeared in the Labrador Sea in 1999 -- and then in massive numbers in the Gulf of St. Lawrence two years later. Now it has established itself as far south as the New York coast, Reid said.

The endangered gray whale sighted off the Israeli coast in May 2010 belonged to a species that was hunted to extinction in the Atlantic by the mid-1700s.

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I see this as a sort of good news/bad news thing. While it does show how changes are happening at an uncomfortable rate, it also shows how nature tends to adapt to those changes.

With apologies to those who find this refrain repetitive: I don't think the climate change issue is as serious as we've been told. That's not to say it isn't serious at all; it's just not as bad as the alarmists would have us believe. Rather than go into a lot of detail as to why, I'll merely cite my source of data: "Physics for Future Presidents" by Richard A. Muller, an excellent layout of information and analysis on this and other issues.

On this particular matter (and others related to it, such as the loss of polar bear habitat and the thawing of Alaskan permafrost), based on Dr. Muller's data, I think we would do well to take a close look at the proliferation of coal power plants in China.

Bob, suggest you become acquainted with www.scepticalscience.com which explores the peer-reviewed data & why the outlook on climate is serious enough to warrant global action to avert some very nasty consequences.

I am experiencing "Scepticalscience.com" AS one of those over-reactive sites that put emotion before thorough scientific reasoning. This seems evinced by the fervent manner in which proponents defend it's findings.

Again, I am with Mr. Greenwade firmly believing that there is an issue at hand for which we best change the way we do things. But, we need to stop flying off the deep end, and stop letting our being 'right' have more importance than being accurate.

My observations indicate that what is actually happening is nature is coming full circle and the changes we are seeing are nature returning the earth to a state of balance that was damaged long before man came along, most likely by a meteor impact. To think that we puny humans are in control is just arrogant.

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