A gray whale named Varvara has successfully swam across a distance of 13,987 miles without GPS assistance or celestial navigation. During this journey between Russia and Mexico, the 9 year old gray whale broke the known mammal migration record. What’s more the giant mammal completed her journey before lunch.
It’s a known fact that gray whales usually don’t eat anything during migration. However, still, staying in empty stomach for five and a half months, while swimming across a distance of almost 14.000 miles, is a great feat by all standards.
Varvara was not the only whale whose journey was monitored by scientists; they monitored the journey of a total of three whales. However, the transoceanic journey during which Varvara traveled from its Russian feeding grounds to its Mexican breeding grounds is surely the most important one among the monitored trips. This is because the distance covered by the whale is a record breaking one; it bettered the previous record by over 2,000 miles.
Among the other two whales monitored by scientists were Flex, a 13 year old male and Agent, a 6 year old female. Each of these three whales was tagged by scientists and was monitored by them via satellite. The study was carried out in the migratory season of 2011-2012.
Biologist Bruce Mate, the leader of the team of researchers carrying out the study, said that the difficulty and duration of the journey monitored by his team challenged his assumptions about the migration process of gray whales. He said that the findings of the study forced him to revise his thinking completely.
Earlier, it was believed that the gray whales usually stay on their respective coastlines (either in North America or Asia) and decide their path keeping an ear or an eye on the corresponding shore. This process of keeping directions resembles the one followed by swimmers; swimmers also move forward following their respective lane lines. Scientists also believed that gray whales follow the same migratory route that their mothers used to follow.
Varvara’s trip, however, didn’t go according to any of the above mentioned theories. She covered the distance between Russia and Alaska swimming faster than all its counterparts straight along the Bering Sea. When returning, she didn’t retract her steps, but took an absolutely new path. This proved that gray whales do have navigational abilities.