A report by Tom Kington for The Times of London.
Wandering humpback spotted off Italy — with calf
A humpback whale has amazed experts by appearing in the Mediterranean 34 years after it was last seen in the Caribbean almost 5,000 miles away.
The 43ft (13m) female whale, accompanied by a calf, initially caused a stir when she was spotted off the coast of Liguria in Italy since humpbacks rarely venture into the Mediterranean.
Experts got a bigger surprise when set about identifying her from the distinct patches of pigmentation on her tail.
“Humpbacks usually migrate on north-south routes and we checked with experts in the Azores and Iceland but found no match with the pigmentation, which is like a fingerprint for a humpback,” Giulia Calogero, head of Italian marine charity Menkab, said
“Finally, after an ever-expanding round of emails, we got a match with a black and white photo taken in the Dominican Republic in 1986. The man who took the photo was really happy the whale had showed up again,” she said.
The journey is 4,800 miles but Ms Calogero said the whale would have probably travelled farther. “They rarely swim in open sea, preferring to hug the coast, so she probably swam north then came back down south. Humpbacks can swim great distances.”
She added: “It is the first time we have heard of a humpback crossing the Atlantic, and it’s even stranger that she has not been catalogued for 34 years. We have no idea what she has been doing since 1986.”
The humpback was spotted off the coast of Liguria in Italy
Humpbacks can live to 70, meaning the whale, who was listed as NA5503 in 1986, was young then and is a mature mother now. Her calf, which is 16ft long, is only months old.
“The mother is looking thin but that is probably because she is feeding the calf, who will need 500 litres of milk a day,” said Ms Calogero.
Humpbacks are not the longest-living whales. That record belongs to the Artic-dwelling bowhead whale, which has a lifespan of about 200 years.
The Ligurian coast is getting used to record-setting whales after an killer whale called Riptide, which had travelled from Iceland, showed up last year before swimming on to Lebanon.