Surprising discoveries were made when a panel of scientists wanted to test and see how far gray whales swim during migration season. Therefore, a group of such mammals were tagged and monitored in order to see what happens.
The results were impressive and they have major implications in the study of mammals, offering new information for scientists who observe whales’ behavior and migration patterns.
Varvara, the whale that broke the world record for mammals’ longest continuous swim, covered almost 14,000 miles between Russia and Mexico. No rest or food stops, the now famous gray whale amazed the science world.
Maybe 14,000 miles doesn’t sound too impressive for some (really?), but researchers also translate that measure in time units. They estimate Varvara had to swim for more than five months to cover such an unbelievably long distance – not that long, considering.
But what baffled scientists the most was the fact that the whale did not make a single stop or pause or restart in its long voyage, meaning it spent almost half a year swimming continuously.
At some point, it started swimming, and didn’t stop until it considered it reached the final destination. Thus, Varvara was awarded with the title of the most exceptional migrating gray whale to hold the world record of longest non-stop migration travel.
Bruce Mate is one of the researchers involved in the monitoring of the whales pod and part of the study, and also an eminent researcher with the Oregon State University. He explained how gray whales are very similar with humans in that we share the same body temperature, therefore, they have to migrate, so they swim in cooler or warmer waters, as needed.
However, according to Mate, this journey is not just breaking the world record, but also brings some interesting insight in the way whales perceive distances and orientation. Seeing how the whale chose different routes to reach its destinations only goes to show what magnificent navigators mammals are.
It is still unknown what factors are involved in the way whales favor some routes and not others, and what causes them to change the course during their long migration. More studies are underway attempting to monitor and observe in a closer manner how these exceptional mammals behave and to see if patterns arise.
Before 1996, eastern gray whales were on the endangered species list, but thanks to an international effort led by the U.S., they are out of the danger’s way.
Image Source: Fiji Marinas