Humpback Whale Squashes Mammal Distance Record

Humpback Whale Squashes Mammal Distance Record

Rene Ebersole
Published: 10/14/2010


                  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Norwegian tourist Freddy Johansen proves that a picture is worth a thousand words—and then some. Johansen’s vacation snapshot of a humpback whale diving off the coast of Madagascar revealed that the whale he saw journeyed more than 6,000 miles from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, breaking the world record for longest distance traveled by any mammal. Researchers at the College of the Atlantic’s Allied Whale saw Johansen’s photo on a Flickr page devoted to identifying humpbacks by distinct markings on their tail flukes and matched it to a whale that had been spotted two years earlier in Brazilian waters.

The whale’s epic swim a quarter of the way around the world has surprised researchers for more than one reason. It traveled between two different breeding groups, a rare phenomenon for this species. What’s more, the vagabond whale is a female; male humpbacks are more often the globetrotters.

The discovery, published in the United Kingdom’s Royal Society scientific journal Biology Letters, has significance for understanding and managing whale populations worldwide, say College of the Atlantic scientists. “While the journey of this one whale is extreme, her example shows us that we should pay attention,” says Peter Stevick, an Allied Whale research associate, in a statement. “Whales may not always do what we expect, or remain in tidy groups. The picture of their behavior is messier, and their east-west movement could well be more important than we have previously recognized. Because of that, our management focus needs to be more expansive.”  

Here are some other amazing facts about humpback whales, courtesy of the American Cetacean Society:

A humpbacks fluke, or its tail, can be 18 feet wide.

Adult humpbacks weigh between 25 and 40 tons and measure 40 to 50 feet long.

Each day a humpback whale eats up to 1.5 tons of krill and other kinds of small fish.

At birth a humpback whale calf is 10 to 15 feet long.

Humpbacks can be found swimming in all the world’s oceans.