A Gray Whale’s Astonishing Migration Breaks Previous World Record

Gray Whale

A western gray whale swam for 13,988 miles from Russia all the way down to Mexico and back again in just 172 days, breaking the record for the mammal with the longest-known migration in history.

The previous record was held by a humpback whale which migrated up to 10,190 miles to reach its breeding grounds near the equator and the food-rich waters of Arctic and Antarctic. But Varvara – the female gray whale – has shattered that record in style.

By placing satellite-monitoring tags on seven western gray whales, researchers aimed to track their migration from Sakhalin Island in southeast Russia where they feed every year. According to lead researcher Bruce Mate, director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, Varvara was the only whale whose tag remained intact through the entire journey. During her historic journey, she crossed the Pacific Ocean and swam down the West Coast of the United States to Baja, Mexico.

The western gray whales are among some of the most critically endangered species. At one time, it was even believed that the mammals were extinct. Though that may not be the case, the Western North Pacific gray whale population remains woefully low and is expected to be between 100 and 150.

The new research may prove seminal in changing some long-held beliefs about the gray whale population. It will help shed some more light on the previously little-known migratory routes and reproductive areas of the whales. It was initially speculated that the gray whales travel from Russia to the South China Sea in a loop. However, the latest research has shown them traveling to Mexico.

“I’ve had to revise my thinking completely,” said Mate. “Needless to say, we’re impressed. … How she did it remains to be seen.”

“She crossed the Bering Sea, the Gulf of Alaska, and the lengths of the North American continent to get down to the Baja breeding calf lagoons that are used by eastern North Pacific animals.”

He is of the opinion that more research is required regarding the different varieties of gray whales. Another possibility is, he explained, that his team of whales might actually be eastern gray whales which had migrated west to Russia. The “eastern or western” question is a significant one. It compels researchers to further inquire about the difference between eastern and western gray whales.

“If there is a more impoverished population of western gray whales than originally thought, there is more reason to ensure the conservation of their genetic diversity,” Mate added.

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About the author

Kristin covers health, science and internet news.