Humpback whales are swarming near our coast and no one knows why

  • A humpback whale breaches the water. Image credit: Getty/wildestanimal
  • An aerial photo of one of the large whale gatherings. Dozens of whales are mysteriously congregating in the same area. Image credit: Jean Tresfon/PLOSone
Date:16 March 2017 Tags:, , ,

Dozens of humpback whales have been spotted off the western coast of South Africa without any apparent explanation.

By Avery Thompson

If you want to go whale-watching, one of the best places right now is off our west coast. That’s because hundreds of humpback whales are massing in this area, and scientists have no idea why.

Starting about five years ago, whale researchers started noticing unexpectedly large groups of whales congregating in the Benguela Upwelling System, a region of the ocean off the western coast of southern Africa. Humpbacks typically only travel alone or in pods of 5-10 whales, but these large congregations had up to 200 members.

What’s more, this area is far away from where the whales are usually found. In the summer months—now in the Southern Hemisphere—the whales travel to Antarctica to feed, while in the winter they reside near the equator. This location is neither, which makes finding so many whales here even more strange.

Scientists believe these whales are congregating for food but are unsure why they chose this specific spot, or why they don’t simply feed near the poles like most whales. There’s a possibility this region serves as more of a social spot where whales learn better ways to hunt for food which is supported by the fact that most of the whales in this region are young.

It’s also possible that such gatherings are natural for whales and the small pods we’ve mostly seen them in are simply a result of the species’ endangered status. The number of humpback whales have tripled since the early 1990s and we may simply be seeing a return to normal habits. If this is the case, we may never really know for sure.

Source: PLOS

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