Subject: migration

Pieter Folkens (
Wed, 26 Feb 1997 01:02:16 -0700

>   I'm looking for information on Humpback whale migration.I'm interested
>in the distances whales go to breed and feed. Also, how do the whales
>remember the routes to travel?

Humpback whales are a cosmopolitan species. This means they are found in
all the oceans. Within this broad distribution groups of whales (called
herds or stocks) develop their own migration habits. In other words all
humpbacks do not go to the same place or follow the same migration paths.

Humpbacks born in Hawaii typically migrate to Southeast Alaska for summer
feeding. Mexican humpbacks migrate to Northern California in the summer.
Caribbean humpies head north in to North Atlantic. In the Southern
Hemisphere humpbacks from Madagasca, Africa and Australia head for various
parts of Antarctica during the austral (southern) summer to feed.

The distances vary. I suggest you go to a globe and measure the shortest
distance from Maui (Hawaii) to Petersburg, Alaska. That one major migration
path. Another is from Socorro Island of mainland Mexico to San Francisco,
California. You might also measure from Isle Ste. Marie on the mid-eastern
coast of Madagascar to Antarctica.

Breeding is in the warm tropics and feeding in the cool temperate regions
in both hemispheres.

As for remembering the route, scientists don't really know for sure. A
minute magnetic bacteria has been found in the membrane which separates the
whale's brain from the skull. This is also known in many migratory birds.
The suggestion is they have a built-in compass. Another viable notion is
plain old memory. What is there to remember? Currents and the stars are two
reasonable possibilities. The actual mechanism of migrations remain largely
a mystery.

I hope this helps.


Pieter Folkens

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