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Humpback Whale Migration

Amruta Gaikwad
The longest and the heaviest of whales, the humpback whales, are a sight to watch as they slap the water with their flippers and disappear into the deep ocean. The migration of these whales is a very well-known fact and many take interest to witness it. Let's learn more about it.
This magnificent whale is found swimming in both the hemispheres and makes an interesting subject to study for many researchers and scientists. These whales are among the baleen whale species and are 50 feet long carrying around 30 to 40 tons of weight.
Their yearly migration of 25,000 kilometers and melodious cries have made them very popular and their migration process has become one of the greatest attractions for people around the world.
As these are among the most fascinating marine creatures, they remain targets of the whaling industry, which has drastically brought down their number. Even getting hit by the ships, tangled in fishing nets, and oil leakages have resulted in the reduction in the population of these whales.
These whales derive their names from their big humps and black dorsal fins. Tubercles, also called hair follicles, cover the head and the lower jaw of the whale. One of the amusing facts of these whales is that they have unique patterns on their pictorial fins which can make identification for each whale easy.
They have around 270 - 400 baleen plates, which measure around 18 inches. As the whale surfaces to breathe it blows out water 10-20 feet high. The calves are as long as their mother's head, which is around 20 foot and weigh around 2 tons.

Migration Process

The habitat of these whales keeps changing as they can easily adapt to different temperatures. Migration happens due to many reasons. With the approach of winter they turn towards temperate waters for breeding purposes and that's when they travel several kilometers together.
Every year many humpbacks travel to different waters as per their need. Pregnant females usually travel to warmer water areas in order to build up their blubber reserves to provide nutrition for their unborn calf.
Even females that have given birth a few days prior, travel to regain their energy levels. The other type of humpbacks are young ones that are not ready to migrate, but are usually accompanied by grown up males and females to the Caribbean in order to mate.
Some humpbacks refuse to migrate due to plenty of food available where they are already dwelling. After being in the Caribbean these whales then head to different feeding grounds. Some common places these whales go to are Gulf of St. Lawrence, Gulf of Maine, Newfoundland-Labrador and Iceland. Some whales return to the same region they migrated from.
Some whales migrate from the Brazilian and African coasts to the southern ocean, while some prefer quieter water areas and migrate to the Hawaiian Islands. Many pregnant females who are approaching the end of their gestation period, come to the Hawaiian Islands to give birth. Later they often travel to southeastern Alaska.

More Facts

The gestation period for these whales lasts up to 11 to 12 months. They breed once in two or three years. As the female humpbacks migrate to warmer waters, it is a tedious task to return to the original place as they mainly have to travel with their newborn calves.
To safeguard their young ones, the humpbacks have to swim close to the coasts. Whales are believed to live up to 50-60 years. Humpbacks prefer to live alone, but for the sake of feeding, they mainly live together for certain period of time.
The courtship is an amazing and intriguing sight. The process of courtship begins sometime in winter. A group of around twenty males gather around a female and try their luck with the female. Spy hopping, tail and fin slapping and breaching are certain gestures that the male tries to flaunt to attract the female.
Even the most talked about humpback song plays a vital role in courtship. The long song of the humpbacks lasts up to 10-20 minutes and involves different sounds in one long cry. As per the research these whales are also known to produce grunts, barks, groans and snorts.
The whale migration has pulled many spectators towards them. However, these frequent whale touring has disturbed the habitats of these charismatic whales.
As the young ones are becoming the victims of their predators, the bigger whales have to struggle for their survival. It is important to take necessary steps to save these marine creature as they would soon reach the verge of extinction.