We Montanans are used to driving a long way to get anywhere. Just to cross the width of the state is more than 600 miles. That’s nothing compared to crossing the entire United States, though, which is about 2,500 miles.
Luckily, we have automobiles and planes to help us travel. In the 1800s, people relied on walking, riding wagons or horses and trains. That meant going long distances took a lot longer.
Our long distance travels seem pretty puny, though, when you consider that scientists tracked a gray whale swimming 14,000 miles – that’s like swimming across the United States five-and-a-half times. The distance is the longest mammal migration ever recorded.
The whale traveled from waters off the coast of Russia’s Sakhalin Island, in the North Pacific Ocean, all the way across the ocean and down the West Coast of the United States to Baja, Mexico.
The western gray whale – named Varvara, which is Russian for Barbara – visited three known breeding areas for eastern gray whales. Scientists had thought the two whales were separate species, but since Varvara’s trip they are now wondering if maybe eastern and western gray whales are the same species.
Western gray whales were thought to have gone extinct by the 1970s before some were discovered near Sakhalin Island. Their current population is estimated at about 150 individuals. Eastern gray whales were once listed as endangered, but conservation efforts helped them climb to more than 18,000 animals.
— Brett French,
Gazette Outdoors editor