It’s not every day that humpback whales are observed in large groups. They’re typically loners that will sometimes be caught with a buddy or two in the ocean.
With that in mind, why are humpback whales consistently being spotted gathering in such high numbers of 20-200 individuals in super concentrated areas far away from where they’re expected to be found? A new study published in PLOS ONE may reveal the answer.
Image Credit: Jean Tresfon/PLOS ONE
According so the study, there have been up to 22 different instances of these super groups appearing off of the coast of South Africa during research cruises in the years of 2011, 2014, and 2015, and similar accounts are sometimes noticed from aircraft flying over the ocean.
Because of their typical solitary behavior and seasonal migration patterns, theories about why so many of the creatures are pooling into one given area that they’re normally not found during this time of the year is quite puzzling. In fact, no one seems to have a solid explanation just yet.
While unconfirmed, one theory is that perhaps changes are occurring in the oceanic ecosystem that could be limiting the availability of their prey choices. As a result, all the humpbacks may be getting forced to migrate to specific regions just to find the food they want to eat.
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“We propose that the 'super-group' feeding phenomenon (as tightly spaced large groups of whales) is a relatively recent behavior exhibited by these whales," said lead researcher Ken P. Findlay, from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in South Africa.
“No such dense feeding aggregations have been reported elsewhere in low or mid latitudes during Southern Hemisphere humpback whale migrations. Indeed, aggregations of whales of this size have seldom been reported in the literature, with 'large' groups often numbering in the range of 10 to 20 or less."
Other theories suggest that perhaps humpback whales have been doing this all along and it just went unnoticed or that massive resurgences in their populations are causing them to behave differently.
While there certainly appears to be a lot to the story of humpback whales that researchers haven’t yet uncovered, it just goes to show that we don’t know everything we thought we did about the species and they will continue to surprise us.