JERUSALEM - The appearance of a grey whale off the coast of Israel has stunned scientists, in what was thought to be the first time the giant mammal has been seen outside the Pacific in several hundred years.
The whale, which was first sighted off Herzliya in central Israel on Saturday, is believed to be the first of many of its species fleeing from wholesale slaughter by Japanese trawlers in the Pacific.
"It's an unbelievable event which has been described as one of the most important whale sightings ever," said Dr Aviad Scheinin, chairman of the Israel Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Center which identified the creature. "These creatures have a high degree of intelligence and have discovered that just off shore of the Israeli coast is the, "promised water" where they can thrive in peace in communal pods.
A population of grey whales once inhabited the north Atlantic but where hunted into extinction in the 18th century and has not been seen there since.
Several Rabbis where about to board a fishing boat headed out to greet the group and provide an official Israeli welcome as this story broke. In the meantime, the government of Israel will be voting on establishing a protective marine sanctuary for these large fellows.
However, a positive sanctuary vote is far from assured as there is great controversy within Knesset by several opposition parties. In part, they are fearful that by establishing such an sanctuary it may attract too many hungry whales which could quickly diminish the Kosher herring for those that enjoy that delicacy.
A vote will be taken on Thursday.