Flickr is now so expansive, or whale tours so ubiquitous, that together they’re actually turning up usable wildlife data. Using pictures on Flickr taken by a Norwegian tourist, scientists found that a female humpback whale traveled nearly 6,100 miles while migrating, from Brazil to Madagascar, the longest migration ever recorded by a whale or any non-human animal.
The scientists were able to tell the whale, seen in 1999 and 2001, was the same one because of its unique tail markings. When whales breach, they often lift their tail (called a fluke) out of the water. These flukes are so particular to each individual animal that scientists can often identify tagged whales simply by viewing a picture of its tail. This particular whale’s migration pattern was different than has previously been observed, and astonishingly long, beating out the past record for longest migration by 2,000 miles. Peter Stevick, a former member of the College of the Atlantic’s Allied Whale told Biology Letters, “While the journey of this one whale is extreme, her example shows us that we should pay attention; whales may not always do what we expect, or remain in tidy groups.”