The concept of social distancing might be new for humans, but at least one whale shark has practiced it for some time.
Rio Lady, a 26-foot whale shark tagged in 2018, has been tracked by research scientists at Nova Southeastern University’s Guy Harvey Research Institute for nearly 20 months — the longesthigh-resolution position track for the endangered species.
Among the mysteries of the whale shark is where they migrate and where they give birth. Now scientists believe they have answers to those questions.
When Rio Lady was first tagged in 2007, researchers believed she was pregnant. She was tracked 5,000 miles to the southern Atlantic, where they suspect she gave birth.
“After the original tag came off, she kind of just went dark,” said Mahmood Shivji, a professor in Nova Southeastern University’s Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography, in a statement. “Talk about social distancing — she kept her distance for nearly four years.
Her new travel path path is “strikingly different,” Shivji said.
“Her recent 20-month journey shows she traveled through the national waters of at least five countries in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, making you wonder where else she explored in the years she wasn’t tracked,” Shivji added.
The whale’ shark’s pregnant travels made her a celebrity. “Rio Lady immediately became a superstar for her species,” said Mote Marine Laboratory’s Robert Hueter, lead scientist of the research in 2007. “She gave us a major clue about where whale sharks may be giving birth to their young, in offshore waters of the open ocean far from their nearshore feeding grounds.”
Since her second tagging, Rio Lady has traveled more than 9,621 miles. She was tracked until Feb. 15, when she socially distanced herself for two months before resurfacing last month in the Gulf of Mexico.
Check out Rio Lady’s travels here.