Why do humpback whales migrate so far to warm waters to breed? Print E-mail

This is a good question and I had to think hard about the answer and wasn't sure I could respond satisfactorily. It's clear the humpbacks go to warm tropical waters to have their babies because the babies are born without blubber and need the warm ambient waters to stay warm and alive. And there are no orcas in these shallow warm waters, and few sharks. It's also been suggested that they migrate to southern (in the northern hemisphere) waters to kill the barnacles that cling to their bodies and that would eventually weigh them down. But for whales that are not about to give birth, why go all the way to the Caribbean or Hawaii when they could stay up north or on the mid-ocean seamounts to mate? I asked Professor Hal Whitehead at the University of Dalhousies this question and he replied:

"Hi Andrew:

 This is a conundrum, and I don't think science has a satisfactory answer. Here are some possibilities: 1.  There is so little to eat elsewhere in the winter that they might as well starve. 2.  Thermal efficiency is more important than food (but they just need to go to the Gulf Stream for warm water, not all the way to the Caribbean). 3.  The females (evolutionarily) set the whole thing up as a test for males. The male has to swim down to the Caribbean, and when there charge around singing without anything to eat.  Any male who survives this must be a  pretty good male and worth mating with. You are right that the lack of a truly convincing argument may partially explain your observations and our records of songs in the mid ocean. All the best Hal"


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