[MARMAM] Exceptional movement by a female humpback whale

Peter Stevick ptstevick at gmail.com
Wed Oct 20 07:17:41 PDT 2010

The following paper has recently been published:
Stevick, P.T, M.C. Neves, F. Johansen M.H. Engel, J. Allen, M.C.C. Marcondes
& C. Carlson. A quarter of a world away: female humpback whale moves 10 000
km between breeding areas. Biology Leters. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2010.0717

Fidelity of individual animals to breeding sites is a primary determinant of
population structure. The degree and scale of philopatry in a population
reflect the fitness effects of social facilitation, ecological adaptation
and optimal inbreeding. Patterns of breeding-site movement and fidelity are
functions of social structure and are frequently sex biased. We report on a
female humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) first identified by natural
markings off Brazil that subsequently was photographed off Madagascar. The
minimum travel distance between these locations is greater than 9800 km,
approximately 4000 km longer than any previously reported movement between
breeding grounds, more than twice the species' typical seasonal migratory
distance and the longest documented movement by a mammal. It is unexpected
to find this exceptional long-distance movement between breeding groups by a
female, as models of philopatry suggest that male mammals move more
frequently or over longer distances in search of mating opportunities. While
such movement may be advantageous, especially in changeable or unpredictable
circumstances, it is not possible to unambiguously ascribe causality to this
rare observation. This finding illustrates the behavioural flexibility in
movement patterns that may be demonstrated within a typically philopatric

The paper can be obtained on line at

If you are unable to access the paper through the web site, requests for
pdfs should be sent to alliedwhale at coa.edu. Other questions and
correspondence to pstevick at coa.edu.

Peter Stevick
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