There are concerns about the safety of a number of humpback whales that have taken a “wrong turn” and strayed into a crocodile-infested river in Australia.
At least three whales have been spotted in the East Crocodile River in Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory, about 12 miles (20 km) downstream of the river in the Timor Sea.
It is believed that three whales entered the river at first and one remained, although it is not clear whether the others actually left or if they simply remained underwater.
The unprecedented sighting astonished locals and authorities, as scientists suggested that the whales may have taken a “wrong turn” during their annual migration to Antarctica.
There have been no recorded sightings of whales in the East Crocodile River in the World Heritage-listed park.
It is also not clear what caused the creatures, who are accustomed to life in clear seas, venturing too deeply into a river with little vision.
Marine ecologist Jason Fowler said he spotted three whales on September 2 while he was sailing with his friends.
Mr. Fowler said, “We ran into some big whales that blew me away completely.
“The water is incredibly foggy. No vision. So you can only see whales when they’re on the surface.”
It has been estimated that there are two adults and a smaller whale around 10 meters (33 feet) to 12 meters (39 feet) long.
Their size makes it unlikely that any crocodiles will attempt to attack it.
“The humpback whale population in Western Australia has completely exploded. It’s a great success story for ocean conservation,” Fowler added.
“There are a lot of humpback whales heading towards the coast of Western Australia now, and they are bound to end up in new places. What’s incredibly strange is the fact that they have reached a muddy, shallow river full of crocodiles – that’s unheard of.”
Despite the name of the river, there are no crocodiles in Australia. It was named after many crocodiles by European explorers who were apparently unable to tell the difference.
Whale and dolphin scientist Carol Palmer said there was at least one whale still in the river at the weekend.
“We don’t know what happened, but it is clear that he took the wrong turn and ended up in the East Alligator River,” Ms. Palmer said.
She added, “It is very tidal. It is very shallow and we are all very keen to try to get this guy out.”
Options for persuading the whale to leave the river included using recorded whale calls or making noise by hitting the side of boats.
“We spoke to the indigenous elders who are talking about this part of the country in Kakadu and they said that there is no name for whales. It has not been recorded in their cultural history. They have never heard of this before,” said Mr. Fowler.
A number of whales have found their way to the River Thames in London, including Two last year.
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