Three whales initially made a wrong turn into Kakadu National Park’s East Alligator River (which is full of crocodiles) early this month. Officials in Australia’s Northern Territory first spotted the stranded trio of whales on Sept. 2 but could not do much to help them, aside from redirecting boat traffic and tracking their progress through the park.
Two of the whales appeared to escape the river earlier this month, leaving only one behind to brave the crocs.
The lost whale was alone for over a week but never appeared to be in distress, officials said on Sept. 11. The whale’s presence caused a stir among locals who compared it to the “Loch Ness monster.”
The whale was often spotted with mud on its body due to the shallow water.
The straggler was spotted in the open waters of Van Diemen Gulf on Sunday, according to park officials. They suspect it travelled over 20 kilometres down the river to make its escape.
“After monitoring the whale this weekend, we’re delighted to see it has made its way out of Kakadu’s East Alligator River,” said Feach Moyle, manager of the park’s Country and Culture Section, in a statement.
“The whale made its way out on the high tides this weekend, and we’re pleased it appeared to be in good condition and not suffering any ill effects.”
It was the first time humpback whales have ever ventured into the river, and officials had worried they might not make it out alive.
“This is the very best outcome we could have hoped for,” said Carol Palmer, a senior government scientist, in the statement. “I’m very happy it has found its own way.”
Humpback whales migrate through Australian waters every year from April until November, and it’s believed the three whales got turned around during that journey.
Officials were getting concerned for the lost whale’s safety just before its escape, Palmer told Australia’s ABC News.
“We were working out a Plan B and a Plan C to get the whale out of the river before the sighting,” she said.
Adult humpback whales grow to be about 15 metres long and weigh up to 36 metric tonnes, according to the American Cetacean Society.
Palmer says the stranded whale managed to swim through areas that were only about 3 metres deep. It also managed to avoid attacks from the river’s infamous crocodiles, which are known to lie in wait before ambushing their prey when it swims too close.
“It is a very strange place for a whale, unless it thought it was a crocodile,” Palmer said.
“We do hope this whale catches up with its friends and heads back down to Antarctica.”