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Whale Swims 6,000 Miles

Whale Swims 6,000 Miles

A humpback whale swam over 9,800 kilometers from Brazil to Madagascar in the longest migration by a mammal ever documented. Peter Stevick from the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine documented the journey. His study was published in the journal, Biology Letters. Mr. Stevick said, “The main take-home message is that the movement patterns of these animals are messier and less constrained than we tend to think.” (Source: Nature.com)

The great traveling whale is a female that was photographed first near Brazil, and two years later again near Madgascar by a tourist, who actually uploaded his whale photos to the website Flckr. A woman named Gale McCullough of Hancock, Maine regularly searches through humpback photos on the site. Because of her years of looking at humpback whale photos, she remembered previously seeing a photo of the whale snapped in Madagascar. The flukes of each whale’s tail are distinct, which is why they are used for scientific photo identification. She is a research associate at the College of the Atlantic, and showed the photos to scientists there.

Extensive searching through an international whale photo identification catalogue enabled scientists to match the photographs. Once the photos were known to be of the same whale, scientists estimated the shortest possible distance between the sighting locations, which is 9,800 kilometers. They said it is likely the distance was even greater, as the whale probably took at least one detour into a nearby ocean for feeding.

“This remarkable movement shows either that humpback whales are amazingly flexible, or that they’re capable of making amazingly large navigational mistakes! “said, Phillip J. Clapham, from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle. (Source: Boston.com)

Fred Johansen, a Norwegian, took the Madagascar humpback photos. He works in the automotive industry, but his first love is nature.

Humpback whales typically do migrate long distances, spending their summers in cooler, northern waters, and winters in tropical and sub-tropical waters for breeding and calving. In 2007, a study documented seven humpbacks in Costa Rican waters had traveled from the Antarctic, a distance of about 5,200 miles. This was considered one of the longest single humpback migrations.

Image Credit: Public Domain

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46 comments

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4:34AM PST on Mar 9, 2011

Thanks for the article.

10:24AM PST on Jan 25, 2011

Dearest creatures!

6:36PM PST on Jan 6, 2011

Thanks for the article. It's absolutely incredable the distance they travel.

9:08AM PST on Dec 24, 2010

I agree with your concern but I just read a book about interspecies communication, a work of fiction by American Indian author, Four Arrows, entitled Last Song of the Whales, that says as long as we remain "human-centered" we may never fix the problem. This is a short easy read and perfect for the beginning of understanding. Read it!

8:39AM PST on Dec 24, 2010

I agree with your concern butI just read a book about interspecies communication, a work of fiction by American Indian author, Four Arrows, entitled Last Song of the Whales, that says as long as we remain "human-centered" we may never fix the problem. This is a short easy read and perfect for the beginning of understanding. Read it!

5:18PM PST on Dec 2, 2010

They are amazing creatures!

10:47AM PST on Dec 2, 2010

Awesome News, again! Thouhg: Shame on Whale-Slaughter-Countries! Think, people of those countries: Do You whant to eat Intellingence?? Thanking Jake again, Veeeryyy Muuuch!!

7:39AM PDT on Nov 5, 2010

What amazing animals!

3:25AM PDT on Nov 1, 2010

Amazing. Whales are fantastic animals! Thank you for posting.

4:00PM PDT on Oct 22, 2010

It's not that anomalous for Humpbacks to migrate from tropical waters off Brazil, down to the cold Southern ocean between S. Africa and Antarctica, and back into tropical waters. That is their normal seasonal pattern.

The Southern groups of Humpback whales migrate from equatorial to southern waters, which are colder, to feed on krill just as the Northern groups migrate from tropical to Arctic waters when the plankton bloom.

What is amazing is that this whale appears to have 'switched' oceans, trading the equatorial waters between Brazil and W. Africa for the Indian Ocean off the coast of Madagascar. Humpbacks have very well-documented seasonal migrations; the Hawaiian group, for instance, seems to have been shuttling back & forth between Alaska for summer feeding and Hawaii for winter mating and calving for years, probably centuries at least since U.S. whalers first recorded them. Why this one female switched to a new calving ground we may never know, but it's a fascinating fact.

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