Before understanding the basics of whale migration, it is important to understand migrations as a whole. A migration is a long-distance movement of an animal. Long distance here is a very relative term as some animals will travel thousands of miles during their migrations while others may only travel a few miles. But it is important to note that a small insect migrating just a few miles can be comparable to a full-size humpback whale migration of a few thousand miles. Many creatures across the animal kingdom migrate for various reasons. Migratory animals are found within all major animal groups which include fish, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. Some prominent migratory animals include geese, salmon, and of course whales! As we cover the basics of whale migration, we will also discuss why do whales migrate, which whales migrate, and the incredibly long humpback whale migration.
There are several reasons behind whale migration. The two main reasons for whale migrations are feeding and mating. During the warmer months, whale feeding sources can become scarce. This leads to whales migrating to colder waters where food sources have not been exhausted and are plentiful. When the cooler waters begin to become too cold and food sources have been depleted, the whale migration to warmer waters will begin. In these warmer waters, is where whale mating seasons will also take place. Meaning that the primary reasoning behind why do whales migrate lies largely with feeding sources and mating.
Though migration is a popular natural phenomenon amongst whales, not all whale species are known to migrate. The recently discovered Omura’s whale is one of the few species that are not believed to migrate. In addition to specific species, some individual whales will sometimes not partake in an annual migration. These individuals are generally the non-breeding members of the species such as juveniles and post-breeding age individuals. For the most part though, nearly all whales migrate. The migratory whales include blue, sperm, gray, right, and orca whales… just to name a few more well known species. We will also touch more on the humpback whale migration as it is one of the longer whale migrations in the animal kingdom.
Humpback Whale Migrations
Humpbacks are responsible for one of the longest migrations in the animal kingdom. Humpback migrations have been tracked as long as 15,000 miles and can take months to complete. Their migrations are broken into two seasons, feeding and mating. Feeding season generally occurs during the warmer months of the year when humpbacks will leave the warmer waters that they inhabit to migrate to colder, food rich waters. Mating season occurs when humpbacks leave the cold hemispheric waters for the warmer equatorial waters which are prime for mating. This generally occurs in the coldest months of the year. This creates a seasonal cycle by which humpbacks will migrate for nearly their entire lives.
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