An Eastern gray whale named Varvara (Russian for Barbara) went for a long swim (14,000 miles, from the east coast of Russia to Mexico and back, nice) and now is apparently helping scientists with a breakthrough finding on her species.

According to a paper published in Biology Letters, questions are now being raised about the endangerment status of two types of gray whales after Varvara's journey, the longest mammal migration ever recorded. It had not been previously known that Western gray whales, typically found in waters off Asia, where Varvara began her journey, interacted with Eastern gray whales, found off the west coast of America. Based on Varvara's trek, researchers now believe the two remaining gray whale populations could actually just be one, and the Western gray whale could be no more.

Here's more from Oregon State University, where scientists wrote the paper:

“The fact that endangered western gray whales have such a long range and interact with eastern gray whales was a surprise and leaves a lot of questions up in the air,” said Bruce Mate, director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University and lead author on the study. “Past studies have indicated genetic differentiation between the species, but this suggests we may need to take a closer look.”

Mate continued: "The ability of the whales to navigate across open water over tremendously long distances is impressive and suggests that some western gray whales might actually be eastern grays. But that doesn’t mean that there may not be some true western gray whales remaining."

Either way, a long journey for any mammal to have taken. Good job, Varvara.


Image via OSU. Contact the author at dayna.evans@gawker.com.