Humpback Whales Annual Migration
Marine Life ,
Whale Watching ;
Humpback Whale ,
3 years ago
Humpback whales hunt and feed during the summer months in the colder waters like Antarctica and then migrate to warmer tropical waters during the winter months for mating. It is around this time of the year that we are able to start to see the annual migration take place with humpback whales passing by the Kaikoura Coastline between May / June / July and August – heading up towards Australia and Tonga for the mating season. Over the last few weeks we have been able to sight quite a few humpback whales as they pass by Kaikoura heading further north. One day last week we actually were able to see throughout the day 8 individual humpback whales passing through.
Two humpback whales passing through Kaikōura
The humpback whale is one of the most easily recognised whale species. Known for their large flippers (which can be up to one-third of their body size), and the hump on their backs. Their colouring is anywhere from a grey to black colour and have white markings on their underbelly. These markings are differing in every whale, being like fingerprints, allowing researchers to identify individuals.
The humpback whales diet is made up of fish and krill. They are baleen whales, meaning they are filter feeders. These whales have two parallel rows of baleen plates attached to their jaws, allowing them to filter water for the fish and krill.
During the mating season humpback whales will fast, living off body fat reserves and completely forgo eating.
Humpback whales breathe voluntarily, unlike human beings. Since they have to remember to breathe, researchers believe humpback whales sleep by shutting off half of their brain at a time.
These whales are known for their complex mating songs. Researchers have studied the whale songs for years, and the complexity of these songs suggests the whales are extremely intelligent creatures. Only the males are responsible for the whale songs, however, since they are primarily a mating signal. These sounds can be heard many miles away and are heard as a combination of moans, howls and cries among other noises which can go on for hours.
Not only famous for the haunting love songs these whales are also well known for their acrobatics. They can be frequently seen leaping out of the water and sometimes can use their flukes to propel themselves completely out of the ocean – known as a breach.
Humpback whale breaching on one our tours
In the Southern hemisphere, commercial whaling in the 20th century brought humpbacks close to extinction. NZ ceased whaling in 1964, with the closure of the Perano whaling station in Tory channel. The stocks had diminished such that humpbacks were no longer migrating through Cook Strait and commercial whaling was no longer viable. Since then NZ has become a vocal advocate for whale protection and conservation – annually for the last 10 years there has been a whale count of humpbacks passing through the Cook Strait – volunteers such as old time whalers turned conservationists and staff from DOC for a 6-12 week period spend the days watching through binoculars for signs of humpback activity and note down details, last week was the biggest count yet for a single day with 27 humpback whales being counted. This year’s Whale Survey ends on the 11th July – here is hoping for a greater tally than last year’s count.
Why do Whales Migrate?
Different Migration of Species of Whales
The simplest explanation for whale migration is diet and whale breeding. During the warm months of the year whales migrate to cold waters where the food is, then, when the weather becomes colder and the food scarce, whales will migrate to warmer water for mating and breeding. Although there is a massive variety of whale breeds, they all follow vaguely to the same migration pattern.
In winter, blue whales are commonly found in warm, tropical waters (to breed and give birth) and in Summer they commonly live in cool, polar waters to feed.
Most Blue Whales are migratory and during their migration travel thousands of Kilometres annually between their winter breeding grounds and the tropics where they mate and give birth.
During blue whale migration, back to the tropics for the winter months they are segregated by sex and age. The older and pregnant whales migrate first while the immature whales bring up the rear.
Amid this migration back to the tropics, they eat virtually nothing for at least 4 months and live on their bodies reserves. Females give birth in tropical waters because the baby whales only have a thin layer of blubber to keep them warm.
Females give birth to a single calf about 7m long and weighing 2.5 tonnes. The whale calves are suckled for 7 months and follow their mothers on the spring migration towards the polar seas.
Once weaned, a whale calf will begin to feed on krill and start to follow the normal migration cycle.
FACT: Generally, the largest and oldest blue whales migrate the furthest north.
Like the blue whale the Humpback whale has a similar migration in that Humpbacks spend their Winter months in warm tropical waters (to breed and give birth) and travel back to their habitat in the cooler polar waters during Summer.
Most Humpback whales make mammoth journeys every year between their feeding and breeding sites. Because seasons are reversed either side of the Equator, Northern and Southern Hemisphere populations of humpbacks probably never meet.
FACT: Humpback whales can travel at speeds of 5 m/ph. but, during their long journey they average only 1 m/ph. socialising and resting along the way.
Not all members of a population will travel together however. For example, the humpbacks that pass the eastern shores of Australia, on their way to the summer feeding grounds of Antarctica each year, will stop off in the warm waters of Hervey Bay.
The first to arrive there are groups of older juveniles, followed by mature males and then mothers and calves.
Reasons for Seasonal Migration
Why do whales embark on seasonal movements?
Some major contributors are;
- Climate Changes
- Water Temperature
- Topography of Ocean Floor
- With the biggest factor being abundance of food.
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Hear some amazing whale sounds
Why do Whales Migrate?
During the warm season, whales migrate to cold waters where food is abundant. When the weather becomes colder, the food start to scarce and whales migrate to warmer water for mating and breeding.
Whales migrate to different locations according to the place their live. Some species migrate as stated below:
Southern Right Wiles.
They migrate during summer to waters near Antarctica, while the mating season they migrate to South America, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.
Humpback whales live in both hemispheres making them to cross over the other side of the world during the feeding and breeding seasons.
This make that the humpback whales in the northern hemisphere travel from the Arctic waters to tropical waters of several places.
Gray whales live in the Eastern North Pacific Ocean in America and the Western North Pacific Ocean in Asia.
The gray whales living in Asia, travel from Japan and Korea to the northern Okhotsk Sea, while the gray whales living in America, migrate from Alaska in the summer to the warmer waters of California and Mexico for breeding.
Northern Right Whales
The northern right whales do not travel as much as the other species breeding off the coasts of Florida and Georgia and feeding in Massachusetts and the North Atlantic Ocean during feeding season.
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