A 40-foot male gray whale has set a brand new record by swimming more than 16,700 miles from the North Pacific Ocean to Nambia, making him the first of his kind to be seen on that side of the world. Somehow, this large animal traveled over halfway around the globe.
Thus, as the mammal swam, he made whale history two-fold. First, he not only traveled the longest distance ever recorded in a marine vertebrate... And, according to National Geographic, he is the second gray whale ever to be witnessed in the Southern Hemisphere after Nambia's 2013 sighting.
As one of the two known species of gray whales, this traveler is at a 50% chance of being an at-risk animal. And, with eastern gray whales sitting at an estimated population of 20,500, that leaves western gray whales with the unfortunate label of endangered. Their community sits around a mere 200 swimmers.
As explained by National Geographic, Eastern whales migrate from the waters surrounding Alaska and Russia to California. Unfortunately, significantly less is known about the travel path of Western gray whales. This could sadly be one of the many reasons these animals have struggled to survive throughout history.
When zoologist Simon Elwen of the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa heard of the uncommon sighting, he couldn't believe the news. "It's like someone saying they saw a polar bear in Paris—technically, it could get there, but it just doesn’t seem very realistic."
However, Elwen soon saw photo proof of the 40-foot creature and was overjoyed! This was shocking to many in the field after the previous record-holder was a leatherback turtle who swam about 12,774 miles across the Pacific Ocean. But why would the whale travel to this area?
Some believe it was due to the drastic decline in the Arctic's sea ice, while others hypothesize that the path supported the gray whale's need to feed in shallower waters more. Either way, research scientist Sue Moore shared that the findings are "Very interesting to contemplate regarding the resilience of this species."