Researchers from the US, Mexico, and Australia discovered proof of humpback whales migrating thousands of kilometers to breed. Their results are described in a report released in the journal Biology Letters.
Individuals and certain groups of humpback whales prefer to stay in the same places of the ocean. One group, for example, feeds off the coasts of Canada and Alaska in the summer. Then, when the temperature cools, they swim south, to either Hawaii or Mexico. The latest study uncovered evidence of at least two men swimming from Hawaii to Mexico in the very same season.
In the winter, humpback whales migrate south to escape the cold. They do it to reproduce. Males compete for females’ interest soon after swimming south, with most succeeding. Success now looks to be more challenging than originally believed. In 2006, one person swam from close to Hawaii to the western coast of Mexico, covering around 4,545 kilometers. In 2018, another swam 5,944 kilometers across Mexico to Maui, just as wintertime was closing down. Both did it during the breeding season, and were spotted courting a single female with other males after they came. The time it has taken these whales to travel such lengths (less than 60 days) revealed they did so considerably quicker than originally thought.
The researchers combed through 26,000 pictures of whales collected by professionals and amateurs since 1977. Humpback whales have distinct patterns on the underside of their tails that help distinguish them. The whales around Hawaii and Mexico are all part of one huge population, the scientists discovered. They also point out that such crosses need conservationists to reassess their classifications. The humpback whales near the coast of Mexico are endangered, but those off the coastline of Hawaii are not.
“Is the mixing a rare occurrence with negligible biological impact or management consequence, or is it a reflection of a biologically meaningful integration of humpback whales throughout the northeast Pacific—if not the entire ocean basin?” concludes the study.
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