Humpback whale baffles scientists after returning to Kakadu river


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A humpback whale that spent more than two weeks in a crocodile-inhabited river in Kakadu in September has returned to the same tropical waterway, baffling scientists as to why it is not heading towards the icy waters of Antarctica.

Dr Palmer said her team has been in contact with other Australian and international whale experts to help determine why the large marine mammal is hanging around, but there was still no clear answer.

Experts are unsure why the humpback whale is staying within the Northern Territory and are worried something could be wrong.(Supplied: Carol Palmer)

“By now all of them are heading to Antarctica to feed,” she said.

“So the fact that this guy’s still in tropical waters — it’s really hot up here — it makes us all feel that there could be something wrong.

“We’ve never ever recorded this kind of thing before.”

Dr Palmer said researchers were conducting helicopter and boat surveys from a distance to better understand the whale’s behaviour.

“They’re such a huge animal and we wouldn’t want them to get nervous and knock the boat by accident,” she said.

“It’s always important for everyone that’s out on the water whenever you see a whale, always keep your distance.”

Plan to analyse the whale’s poo

Dr Palmer said they are hoping the whale will leave the river before the wet season kicks in, when rainwater washes into the Territory’s many tidal rivers.

“There’s a decrease in salinity and that change in the water can impact on their skin quality, which can have a health impact,” she said.

Humpbacks usually travel from Australia to the Southern Ocean between September and November.(Supplied)

Over the next few days, the researchers plan to gather samples of the whale’s poo for analysis.

“They’ll be able to tell if it’s been eating, and that will be really good information to know if he’s actually foraging up here,” she said.

“That just gives us a little bit more information we don’t have at the moment.

“So, yes, we’d like him to do a poo, please.”


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