No One Knows How This Humpback Whale Got Stranded in Australia’s Alligator River

Several humpback whales swam into an Australian river filled with crocodiles earlier this month, and scientists fear one whale may not be able to leave.

“How it has ended up in the river, no one can be certain. It sort of feels like they’ve just made a wrong turn,” Dr. Carol Palmer, a senior scientist at the Northern Territory Department of Environment and Natural Resources, told Guardian Australia on Monday.

The whales were first spotted in the East Alligator River of Australia’s Kakadu National Park. It is believed that three whales entered the river and that one still remains about 19 miles inland. It is the first time a whale has been recorded that far inland in crocodile-infested waters, according to The BBC.

Scientists’ best guess is that they lost their way while on their annual migration to Antarctica and became stranded. Another possible explanation is that the whales entered the river to feed on the baitfish in the river.

The current spot where the whale is lingering is quite shallow, although its body doesn’t quite yet touch the river bed. Although the river is home to many crocodiles, scientists don’t believe that they are interested in the whales and they should pose no threat.

Authorities have also established a boat exclusion zone in the East Alligator River to prevent boats from injuring the whale.

“We are monitoring the situation and working with NT government authorities to gather data on this unusual event, and an expert working group has been set up to monitor the whale and prepare plans for intervention if required,” Kakadu National Park wrote in a statement on Facebook.

But if the whale doesn’t naturally leave the river, the environmental department may use boats to try to push it back out onto its migratory path.

Although this instance is an Australian first, it is not the first time that marine life has become trapped in unfriendly waters. Last year, 14 people formed a human chain to help lead a pack of dolphins to safety after they became stranded in a Florida canal.

Cailey Rizzo is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure, currently based in Brooklyn. When in a new city, she's usually out to discover under-the-radar art, culture, and secondhand stores. No matter her location, you can find her on Twitter, on Instagram or at

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