Mother of biology Dr. Daniel J. Lees, director of the Institute for Bioinformatics at the University of Minnesota, says the world is awash with information about whales, and that’s why the public’s interest in the baby-whales mystery is so great.
“The whale has been a fascination of scientists for decades,” Lees said.
“There’s just so much we don’t know about these amazing creatures.”
The first-time mom, named Molly, was found in 1999, about two weeks after her mother died.
She was still alive when she was rescued, but the baby was taken to a wildlife rehabilitation center in Minnesota.
The baby is now in a sanctuary in San Diego.
Now that the whale is safe and well, she’s being nursed back to health by the U.S. Navy’s Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which is spearheading a massive search for Molly.
That’s a huge undertaking, and Lees says it’s important that scientists learn more about whale biology.
“If we learn more, we can understand them better,” Leets said.
It’s possible Molly’s mother, a female called Dora, may have lived and died thousands of years ago.
Dora lived in the Arctic Ocean for millions of years, while Molly was born in a pod on land.
It may have taken her many years to reach maturity and then die, Lees explained.
The team of scientists that found Molly has already identified more than 100 different types of whales in the region.
“What we have found so far, we’re very proud of, is there are a number of very large whales that we think of as whales of the Arctic,” said Dr. Jeffrey Sussman, an expert on marine mammals at the Naval Research Laboratory, who is leading the search for the whale.
“It’s really important that we find a whale that is of a very young age, because we don.t want to be missing this opportunity to learn more,” he said.
Sussmann says the baby’s parents likely weren’t the whales that live in the ocean.
They probably came from somewhere far from where they are now, he said, because the Arctic sea ice has been melting for decades.
“So that’s the challenge that we’re facing now is trying to find out how young this whale is,” he explained.
“When we look at her skull, it’s like a little baby whale that’s not yet fully formed.”
The Navy’s search for a baby whale on the ocean’s edge has been going on for a few years.
It was a whale found about five years ago in the Beaufort Sea off South Africa.
Scientists believe it was Molly’s father.
Sommersman says the hunt for a whale’s father in the same area will be different because of the changing Arctic climate.
“In the past, this was the area where there was the largest concentration of these animals,” he noted.
“But this time, the area has been really warming, so we think this might be an area that could have been where Molly was found.”