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Image 1 for Mud-covered whale swims out of croc-infested NT river, bound for Antarctica

Bye bye! The humpback has found its way back to open water. Pic: Parks Australia

Image 2 for Mud-covered whale swims out of croc-infested NT river, bound for Antarctica

The whale made its way out of Kakadu’s East Alligator River and into the Van Diemen Gulf. Pic: Parks Australia

Mud-covered whale swims out of croc-infested NT river, bound for Antarctica

21 September 20


A humpback that stunned scientists when it was found 20 kilometres upstream in a crocodile-infested river in Kakadu National Park has finally returned to the open sea after a 17-day epic journey.

Experts who were tracking its progress sighted the whale, dubbed The Kakadu Humpback, nine kilometres off the Van Diemen Gulf on Sunday.

Northern Territory Government scientist Carol Palmer said the sighting was comforting news.

"We are really happy, because it was getting to the point where tides were causing us to be more than a bit concerned," Dr Palmer told ABC Radio Darwin.

"We were working out a plan B and a plan C to get the whale out of the river before the sighting."

The whale was part of a group of three found by a group of marine ecologists who had gone fishing on the river on September 2.

Two of those whales later returned to sea, leaving just one further downstream.

It is the first time in recorded history that humpbacks have been seen 20 kilometres upriver in Kakadu.

The scientific team said their concerns spiked on Friday when they saw the whale in very shallow water.

"The whale was covered in mud, although it looked fine," Dr Palmer said.

"We had found it seven kilometres downstream from where we had earlier recorded it and it was in pretty shallow water, only three metres deep," Dr Palmer said.

Scientists were considering a number of options, including using killer whale calls or loud noises, to scare the whale back out to sea.

But those strategy had risks, Dr Palmer noted, because it could also increase the likelihood of a stranding. 

"We did not even decide to put a tracker on it because we did not want to scare it when it was in shallow waters," she said.

The NT scientific team sought advice from experts across Australia.

Some experts believe that although this was an exceptionally rare circumstance, the curiosity of humpback whales sometimes led to them finding themselves int strange and unexpected places, including Sydney Harbour.

Humpback whales make an annual migration north from Antarctica to calve during the southern winter before heading back to Antarctica for a summer feeding period.

Experts believe there are around 70,000 humpback whales spread across two large groups that take part in an annual migration off the east and west coasts of Australia. 

The whale found in Kakadu was almost certainly from the west coast group. 

But for Dr Palmer, the best news has been that the whale's detour in Kakadu has only been temporary.

"It is a very strange place for a whale, unless it thought it was a crocodile," she said.

"We do hope this whale catches up with its friends and heads back down to Antarctica." 

-  AUTHOR: HENRY ZWARTZ

 - SOURCE: ABC AUSTRALIA

FULL ARTICLE HERE

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