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The gray whale is distributed in an eastern North Pacific (North American) population and a critically endangered western North Pacific (Asian) population.
North Atlantic populations were extirpated (perhaps by whaling) on the European coast before AD 500 and on the American coast around the late 17th to early 18th centuries.
The subfossil remains of now extinct gray whales from the Atlantic coasts of England and Sweden were used by Gray to make the first scientific description of a species then surviving only in Pacific waters.
The gray whale has a dark slate-gray color and is covered by characteristic gray-white patterns, scars left by parasites which drop off in its cold feeding grounds.
In May 2013, a gray whale was sighted off Walvis Bay, Namibia.
Scientists from the Namibian Dolphin Project confirmed the whale's identity and thus provides the only sighting of this species in the Southern Hemisphere.
They had been seasonal migrants to coastal waters of both sides of Atlantic, including the Baltic Sea, Remains dating from the Roman epoch were found in the Mediterranean during excavation of the antique harbor of Lattara near Montpellier in 1997, raising the question of whether Atlantic gray whales migrated up and down the coast of Europe from Wadden Sea to calve in the Mediterranean.
Similarly, radiocarbon dating of American east coastal subfossil remains confirm that gray whales existed there at least through the 17th century.
Other than speculations, large portions of historical characteristic of migration and distribution are unclear such as locations of calving grounds, existences of resident groups, and occurrences within Black and Azov Seas.However, there have been observations of some whales showing distinctive, blackish body colors in recent years.) whose migratory route is presumed to be between the Sea of Okhotsk and southern Korea, and a larger one with a population between 20,000 and 22,000 individuals in the eastern Pacific traveling between the waters off northernmost Alaska and Baja California Sur.The western population is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN.Recent increases in sightings are confirmed in Arctic areas of the historic range for Atlantic stocks, most notably on several locations in the Laptev Sea including the New Siberian Islands in the East Siberian Sea, It has been speculated that this whale crossed from the Pacific to the Atlantic via the Northwest Passage, since an alternative route around Cape Horn would not be contiguous to the whale's established territory.There has been gradual melting and recession of Arctic sea ice with extreme loss in 2007 rendering the Northwest Passage "fully navigable".