Western gray whale named Varvara (Barbara) sets migration record

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New Mammal Migration Record Set By A Western Gray Whale

Animals have been known to make some epic journeys, but the migration of a whale named Varvara (the Russian equivalent of 'Barbara') has made history, CNN reports.

Discovery News explains that the Western North Pacific gray whale has set a new record for the longest tracked migration to be completed by a mammal. The female successfully made a round-trip journey between her home off the east coast of Russia and breeding grounds near Baja California in western Mexico.

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In total, she traveled about 14,000 miles over 172 days. Discovery News writes: "Until now, the title of the longest-migrating mammal belonged to the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), which migrates up to 10,190 miles (16,400 km) round trip as it travels between its breeding grounds near the equator and the food-rich waters of the Arctic and Antarctic, according to Guinness World Records."

The Washington Post notes that the trip is more than just impressive. It's extremely significant because it calls into question whether the gray whales that occupy each locale are actually different species, as is commonly believed.

Bruce Mate, the director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, explained that migratory paths from breeding areas to foraging grounds are ingrained early and tend to dictate travels later in life. That Barbara wound up in Mexico leads Mate and fellow scientists to believe that that's where she's originally from.

Two other tagged whales lost contact in the Gulf of Alaska and off the Oregon coast, but are thought to have also traveled to Mexico and back.

If that is the case, the previously clear distinction between the Eastern and Western varieties becomes a bit more confusing, EurekaAlert! explains. It's possible that whales scientists always thought were Western grays may actually be Eastern grays, which means that the amount of true Western gray whales, which are listed as endangered, is much lower than we thought.

Further studies into the matter are ongoing and involve the examination of larger data sets, particularly those that concern genetics.

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