On a recent whale-watching trip, I talked to the guide about why whales migrate, and he gave me some good insights. This article examines why they move from one area and their motives for migrating every season.
Whale migration is the seasonal movement from one place to another. Whales migrate for two reasons; to find a fresh food source and suitable breeding grounds.
There are over 80 species of whales, and each has its migration pattern. Some whales travel thousands of miles to find suitable food and breeding grounds.
What Causes Whale Migration?
Whales migrate for two reasons; food and reproductive needs. Whales migrate to search for a plentiful supply of food and to find suitable breeding grounds. During the warm seasons, whales migrate to arctic waters with a good food source. Whales must find another location when the weather changes and the water cools, and the long migration to warm waters begins.
Once the water becomes cold, food becomes scarce, so whales have to migrate to warmer waters where there is a better supply. Whales migrate towards the poles in the summer and the equator’s more tropical waters in the winter.
Whales migrate to reproduce. Whales take advantage of the weather, migrating to colder water to breed. Different species have specific locations where they gather for breeding.
Whales migrate between feeding and breeding seasons. They tend to migrate towards cooler waters during summer to feed and replenish their fat supply before the cold temperatures increase.
Whales migrate to a familiar place where breeding occurs, and once their mating season ends, they will leave that area.
Do Different Whales Migrate at the Same Time?
A whale’s migration time, distance, and destination differ from one species of whale to another. The main factor for this is the time it takes to give birth. The gestation period impacts when, where, and if they migrate to new locations during certain times of the year.
Whales will not migrate long distances to mate or give birth to calves, as they can breed at any time of the year. The difference in the gestation period among different whale species results in different species migrating simultaneously.
Killer whales migrate but do not have a specific breeding ground but move to different areas to give birth. The gestation period of a killer whale is between 15-18 months. As the gestation period is long, this overlaps with their feeding season. Due to this, they will give birth at their feeding grounds.
The narwhal and the beluga whale have a gestation period that exceeds some other whale species’ 11-12 months cycle. With this gestation period, the narwhal and beluga have time to travel from one area to another. However, neither the beluga nor narwhal migrates over vast distances from cold weather to tropical environments like other whales.
Blue and humpback whales have a similar gestation period of 11-12 months. This allows them to give birth in the same warm areas where they mate.
These migratory patterns give their newborn calves a warm and secure environment. They can give birth to their calves in the same area each year, making it easier than dealing with births scattered throughout their feeding grounds.
Where Do Whales Migrate?
Whales migrate towards the colder poles in the summer and the equator in the winter. This migratory pattern helps whales take advantage of the abundance of food in the colder waters in summer. As the food sources in those areas run out, whales migrate to warmer waters to give birth to their calves and find fresh food sources.
Humpback whales migrate annually from their summer feeding grounds at high latitudes. They then move to their winter breeding grounds in subtropical and tropical waters.
Humpback whales typically feed in Alaska during the summer before moving to Hawaii’s warmer climates in the winter months.
The gray whale is another whale species that migrate north each spring. They feast on food sources by migrating north, growing fast in the Arctic’s rich feeding waters.
Gray whales also migrate south each fall to mate and give birth in lagoons on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. They can be seen following this migration pattern every year.
Blue whales in the Pacific migrate from California to the warmer weather of Mexico and Costa Rica.
North Atlantic right whales move between the cold waters of the Northeastern U.S. and Canada to the warmer waters of Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
Advantages of Migration For Calves
Whales migrate north to warmer tropical breeding grounds, and there are several reasons for this. By moving to a lower latitude, the risk of attack on young calves by predators such as killer whales is lower. Clear, shallow waters also have a reduced predation risk.
Calm waters further north also provide a better environment for calves to swim in, as they use less energy and do not need to use energy to keep themselves warm.
Why Does The Humpback Whale Migrate?
The humpback whale is one of the most majestic creatures in the ocean, and its migration pattern is fascinating. These massive mammals must travel vast distances to find food, breed and give birth to their young. Humpback whale migrates seasonally in search of nutrient-rich foraging areas they need to survive.
During the warmer months, whales migrate from the cooler waters of their feeding grounds near Antarctica to the warmer waters near the equator, such as Hawaii. They use warmer waters to breed. They can travel thousands of kilometers, with journeys up to 10,000 miles long.
As winter ends, these whales make the return trip back to Alaska and other polar waters. Scientists believe that instinct plays an important role in their migration patterns, as generations of whales appear to follow similar routes each year. By migrating, humpback whales can maximize their chances of finding enough food and healthily increase their population numbers.
Which Whale Has The Longest Migration?
The gray whale is considered to have the longest migration of any marine mammal. The gray whale travels 10,000-12,000 miles on a round trip between their breeding grounds off Baja California, to their feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi Seas off Alaska.
The longest migration is from a gray whale, breaking the marine mammal migration record. The whale traveled from Russia to Mexico and back again. This was measured as a distance of 13,988 miles, completed in just 172 days.
The second-longest-ever migration was by a humpback whale. The whale was sighted off the Antarctic Peninsula in April 1986 and then sighted again off Colombia in August 1986. It was estimated to have traveled over 5,100 miles.
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Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.