Some humpbacks don’t migrate!

Okay - so this new discovery is absolutely groundbreaking!! Scientific evidence has shown some whales may skip the migration and stay behind in Antarctica over winter... say what!?

What an incredible discovery for German marine biologist Ilse Van Opzeeland from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research.

At a time when they should have been 7000km north off the coast of Eastern Africa, these whales were heard 'chatting' to each other from a nearby scientific research station using underwater microphones.

Pulling recordings from two years in a row, it was proven that humpbacks were present in the Weddell Sea during Antarctic winter months in both years.

Traditionally it was believed all humpbacks migrate toward the equator during winter. So just what are these whales doing and why have they skipped the migration?

Considering the migration depletes a whale of about 60% of their body weight, it is thought perhaps these humpbacks were non-pregnant juvenile females who were 'fattening themselves up' for the following year.

A humpback whale usually spends summer in Antarctic waters, feeding on krill and building themselves up for the winter migration.

There are several sets of humpback whale populations, this particular group was heard in the eastern Weddell Sea - south of Africa. While it is unconfirmed which group these particular humpbacks came from - it is speculated they belonged to the group which migrates annually up the eastern coast of Africa.

Each humpback whale population has a unique acoustic 'fingerprint' which allows scientists to identify them.

Further research will be conducted to determine which population these whales belong to... and just how many are skipping the migration.


Below: Rare photo of a Humpback Whale beside a chunk of sea ice in the Weddell Sea.
The picture was taken by researchers during a January 2013 expedition.
Credit: ITAW/Carsten Rocholl

A whale and an iceberg