A western North Pacific gray whale — identified as “Varvara” — has just set a new mammalian world record. According to USA Today, the nine-year-old whale made an epic journey of nearly 14,000 miles — and in the process set a new world record for mammal migration. The whale travelled a total of 13,987 miles in 172 days as its path was continuously monitored by researchers. The journey of epic proportions started in Russia and reached the halfway point in Mexico — and then the whale turned back and returned to the Russian coast. What is even more remarkable is the fact that the gray whale, in all likelihood, did not eat during this entire trip!
Prior to this, certain species of the humpback whales were known to make such long journeys. However, most humpback whales were known to travel “only” 10,000 or so miles — the previous world record being 10,190 miles, as recognized by the Guinness World Records. The new record set by Varvara the gray whale leaves the erstwhile champions in the dust.
Scientists who tracked this gray whale revealed their findings in a study published in the journal Biology Letters, reported CNN. According to Bruce Mate, the lead author of the study and an Oregon State University biologist, the whale named “Varvara” (which is Barbara in Russian) was tracked using satellite-monitored tags. The new study has let scientists gain valuable information regarding the migration and breeding patterns of gray whales — which is a critically endangered species with just over 150 individuals still remaining. In fact, gray whales were so rare, at one point in time, they were considered extinct — and for the same reason, little was known about them. According to Bruce, researchers initially thought gray whales migrated towards Asia and the South China Sea during winters. But after tracking Varvara, it became clear that several gray whales might be taking an entirely different route.
“The expectation was western gray whales migrated down (the) Asian Coast and many suspected that the winter breeding area was the South China Sea.”
He added that Varvara, in the five months she took to complete the epic trip, crossed the Bering Sea, the Gulf of Alaska, and then traveled almost the entire length of the North American coastline till she reached Mexico’s Baja. She then turned back and made a return trip back to Russia. Two other gray whales were also monitored by the team. However, their satellites tags fell off before they completed their trip. According to Bruce Mate, it is likely that Varvara was born off the Mexican coast and that she is very familiar with the route she took for the trip.
“By coming all the way to Mexico it reveals that Varvara was born there. Calfs inherit their mothers’ foraging area, so she would have closely followed her mother from the breeding area where she was born to the feeding area.”
Gray whales are large mammals and could reach up to 14.9 meters (49 ft) in length and could weigh up to 36 tonnes (40 short tons). The have an average lifespan of 55 to 70 years. A few months ago, the Inquisitr had reported about a gray whale dying after it was hit by a propeller of a moving vessel.
[Image via Wikimedia Commons]