There are concerns for the safety of a number of humpback whales that have made a “wrong turn” and strayed into a crocodile-infested river in Australia.
At least three whales have been spotted in the East Alligator River in the Northern Territory’s Kakadu National Park, around 12 miles (20km) from the river’s mouth in the Timor Sea.
It is believed three whales initially entered the river and that one has remained, although it is not clear if the others have actually left or are merely staying underwater.
The unprecedented sighting has stunned locals and authorities, with scientists suggesting the whales may have just made a “wrong turn” while on their annual migration to Antarctica.
There have been no previous recorded sightings of whales in East Alligator River in the World Heritage-listed park.
Nor is it obvious what made the creatures, used to life in clear seas, venture so deep inland in a river with little visibility.
Marine ecologist Jason Fowler said he spotted three whales on 2 September while he was sailing with friends.
Mr Fowler said: “We happened to bump into some great big whales which completely blew me away.
“The water’s incredibly murky. It’s got zero visibility. So you can only see the whales when they’re right on the surface.”
He estimated there were two adults and a younger whale, that were around 10 metres (33ft) to 12 metres (39ft) long.
Their size makes it unlikely any crocodiles would try to attack them.
“The west Australian humpback whale population has absolutely exploded. It’s the great conservation success story in the ocean,” Mr Fowler added.
“There are so many humpbacks heading up the WA (Western Australia state) coast now, they’re bound to end up in new places. What’s incredibly weird is the fact that they’re up a muddy, shallow river full of crocodiles – that’s unheard of,” he went on.
Despite the river’s name, there are no alligators in Australia. It was named after its many crocodiles by European explorers who apparently could not 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’s happened, but it’s obviously made a wrong turn and ended up in the East Alligator River,” Ms Palmer said.
“It’s very tidal. It’s quite shallow and we’re all pretty keen to try to get this guy out,” she added.
Options to persuade the whale to leave the river included using recorded whale calls or creating noise by banging the side of boats.
Mr Fowler said: “We spoke to the Aboriginal elders who speak for that bit of country in Kakadu and they said there’s no name for whales. It’s not recorded in their cultural history. They’ve never heard of this before.”
A number of whales have found their way into the Thames River in London, including two last year.
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