Come in, No 1363, your 6,200-mile swim is over
Wednesday 13 October 2010
A humpback whale has travelled the longest distance recorded for any mammal, swimming across nearly a quarter of the globe between two breeding grounds.
The female whale's incredible journey began off the coast of Brazil and ended at Madagascar, almost 6,200 miles away. It was photographed there two years after first being identified by researchers on Abrolhos Bank, Brazil, in August 1999.
Scientists do not know whether the animal's epic trip was deliberate or the result of a navigational accident. Humpbacks are known for long distance migrations, regularly travelling 3,100 miles between their breeding and feeding grounds. But these journeys generally take them north and south, not east or west.
Such a long trip between breeding areas is unexpected in a female, as it is more normal for male mammals to wander in search of mates. The whale, known by staff the Antarctic Humpback Whale Catalogue (AHWC) as "No 1363", was recognised by its distinctive markings.
She was originally one of a pair observed for about an hour off the Brazilian coast. The animal then disappeared until being photographed on 21 September 2001 from a commercial "whale watch" tour vessel. Researchers led by Dr Peter Stevick of the AHWC, based in Maine, said the distance travelled by the whale was the "longest documented movement by a mammal".
Writing in the Royal Society's journal Biology Letters, he added: "Movement of an individual between breeding areas separated by approximately 90 longitudinal degrees, a continent, an ocean basin and nearly 10,000 kilometres illustrates the ability of humpback whales to range across large portions of the globe."
What led to the feat was uncertain. Humpbacks tended to be attached to particular breeding areas and long-distance movement between different sites us rare. This leads to restricted gene flow and relatively distinct breeding populations. Previously recorded movements between humpback whale breeding grounds had been made by males. Dr Stevick said extremely long travel by whales could result from exploring new habitats or a "navigational miscue".
He said: "Humpback whales may make large longitudinal movements while feeding at high latitudes, especially in changeable or unpredictable circumstances. Such movement may occur through tracking prey, exploring potential foraging sites or... through drift with the... current."
Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Rare birds return to remote South Georgia island after successful rat eradication programme
The most stunning images of spider webs
Polar bears will die out if global warming is not reversed, US report finds
The Eastern Cougar will be officially listed as extinct — almost 80 years after last sighting
- 1 Michelle Watt's father says TV presenter killed herself because she was in constant pain
- 2 Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
- 3 'Help me I'm trapped in a factory' messages keep being found on bottles of vitamin water
- 4 North Korean defector flees to Finland 'with evidence of chemical testing on humans'
- 5 Greek debt crisis: The photograph that conveys the despair of Greece's elderly
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...
£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...