BAR HARBOR — When Norwegian tourist Freddy Johansen snapped a photograph of a diving humpback whale in Madagascar, he had no idea that his vacation excursion would lead to an important scientific discovery.
Researchers from College of the Atlantic’s Allied Whale saw the image on the Internet and realized that the same whale had also been photographed in the waters off Brazil. Not only did this journey take the whale a quarter of the way around the globe — farther than that recorded by any mammal, ever — the whale moved between two different breeding groups, a rare occurrence for this species.
This finding, published in the United Kingdom’s Royal Society scientific journal Biology Letters, has implications for understanding and managing whale populations worldwide, say College of the Atlantic (COA) scientists.
According to Peter Stevick, an Allied Whale research associate, this whale’s journey is remarkable for both its distance and its destination. It is nearly twice as far as the passage typically made by humpbacks in their annual north-south migration between winter breeding grounds in warm tropical waters and the nutrient-rich colder waters where they feed in summer. This whale has traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, around Africa and well into the Indian Ocean.
Humpback whales seldom move between breeding areas, so the breeding groups or stocks are thought to be isolated from one another. Even more unusual, this whale is a female. Usually it is the males who are the long-distance travelers.