Many species of whale choose to migrate to waters with a more abundant food source during the summer months.
In this post, we’re going to answer a common question we find our readers asking. Do humpback whales migrate?
In short, yes they certainly do. Humpbacks make a yearly 3,000-mile migration but can sometimes migrate over 5,000 miles to go from their feeding grounds in the summer to their mating grounds in the winter.
Let’s take a closer look…
Do Humpback Whales Actually Migrate?
Humpback whales, much like other species of whales migrate in order to feed, as well as mate, and give birth.
Migration is important for humpback whales, as it allows them to travel to a much more abundant feeding ground in order to fatten up for the winter months.
Once they have had their fill, they migrate to warmer waters that are out of the way from predators such as Great White Sharks and Orca in order to have their calves.
Migrating in order to give birth is important as it gives the whales the best chances of survival. Whale calves usually stay with their calves for 11 months before going at life on their own.
Where Do Humpback Whales Migrate To?
Humpback whales are found all throughout the world’s oceans. In the Northern hemisphere, humpback whales are found in the North Pacific, from Alaska, Prince William Sound, and British Columbia.
These whales migrate seasonally to Hawaii, the Gulf of California, Mexico as well as Costa Rica.
Whereas in the northwest Atlantic, humpbacks can be found in the waters of Iceland, southern Greenland, Norway, Svalbard, Canada, and the US.
This population of humpback whales migrates south to the Caribbean and south from the southern Bahamas to Grenada, the Grenadines, and Venezuela.
They migrate to colder waters in the summer in order to feed and then migrate to warmer tropical waters to mate and give birth.
The locations and waters they migrate to will differ depending on the population of humpbacks.
How Far Do Humpback Whales Migrate?
In the North Pacific, the humpbacks that migrate from Alaska to Hawaii travel around 3,000 miles in roughly 28 days.
Some populations of humpback can travel as far as 5,000 miles between high-latitude summer feeding grounds to winter mating and calving grounds.
One humpback whale broke a migration world record when it migrated from Brazil to Madagascar, covering 9,800km.
Why Do Humpback Whales Migrate?
There are two main reasons why humpback whales make their long migration, one is to reach more abundant feeding grounds in the summer months, such as the Arctic.
Once the whales reach their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic, they will typically eat around 3,000 pounds worth of food per day.
This mainly consists of krill and other shrimp-like crustaceans. They overeat in order to pack on as much fat as possible in order to sustain themselves when they migrate to warmer mating grounds in winter.
When they have spent all summer feeding, they will migrate to warmer waters in order to mate and give birth.
These warmer waters are much safe for their calves to nurse and grow, giving them the best chance of survival.
However, during the winter migration, the whales often fast and don’t eat whilst traveling.
This can mean the whales that have not fed up enough become weak, and much more vulnerable to attacks from predators.
How Often Do Humpback Whales Migrate?
Humpback whales migrate every single year in order to reach their feeding grounds.
They need to continue this migration cycle in order to feed and mate, ensuring the survival of their species. If they stop migrating, then they will not be able to eat the amount of food they need to survive.
This is why some whales travel as far as 5,000 miles to reach colder waters in summer. The food in Alaska is plentiful, and more than enough for thousands of humpbacks to have their fill.
But it’s not only the humpback that makes this migration. Gray whales are the first to arrive, typically in April, and then May is when Orca starts to appear.
Humpbacks typically arrive in Alaska to feed in June, and then leave between September – November.
From there, it is estimated that around 10,000 humpback whales travel from Alaska to the Hawaiian Islands every single winter, starting in November and lasting until around May.
The number of whales in Alaska in the summertime can be astonishing, as many species travel to these waters to take advantage of the amount of food.
Peak Alsakan whale season is between May to September, and it’s between these months that boat tours operate to give tourists the opportunity to spot all types of whales in the wild.
So, do humpback whales migrate? Absolutely, they have one of the most impressive and longest migrations of any mammal.
Humpbacks migrate to cold waters, such as Alaska in summer to make use of the abundance of food. They fill up on krill and other crustaceans and pack on as much fat as possible.
From there they migrate to warmer waters in order to give birth and give their calves the best chance of survival.
The number of humpback whales is increasing steadily, and they now have a conservation status of least concern.
This means that they are no longer endangered, and a big part of this is because of the legislation put in place to protect humpbacks, but also their long migration to ensure their species’ survival.
The humpback whale migration is a long, but crucial one. Tens of thousands of humpback whales make the migration every year and have done for decades.
Hopefully, this post has been insightful into the humpback whales’ migration and you’ve now got a clear answer to your question of do humpback whales migrate.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post and learn more about the humpback whale.
Hi, I’m George – the founder of MarinePatch. I created this blog as marine wildlife has been my passion for many years. I’ve spent over a decade in the marine wildlife industry and spent years out in the field conducting research. In today’s modern world, an online blog is the best place for me to share my findings and reach as many people as possible to help educate and inspire others. Enjoy your time here and you’re welcome back anytime!