Depending on the species, whales can migrate up to twenty-two and a half thousand kilometers
And as for why, there have been a few reasons proposed over the years -- from availability
of food, to warmer water helping them get pregnant.
But according to one group of researchers, it might actually be part of some whales’
Humpback whales may be the most famous long-distance travelers, and the current hypothesis for
why is that they will swim to cooler waters in the summer to feed, and to warmer waters
in the winter to give birth to their young.
Scientists think that the warmer waters might offer some whale species a safer place to
give birth because there are fewer predators there at the time.
Alternatively, the milder temperature might be less shocking to newborn calves.
This “feed and breed” idea explains why baleen whales migrate, but not all whales
do it for the same reasons.
Take killer whales for example.
In 2019, researchers published a study that tracked and took photos of a group of sixty-two
 killer whales as they migrated north from Antarctica to warmer seas.
Some of their warm-water migrations were really quick, like not enough time to pop out a little
What’s more, they observed killer whale moms with calves in Antarctic waters, suggesting
they weren’t traveling north to give birth in warmer areas.
The adult whales were also tracked traveling fast and at shallow depths.
That didn’t match up with the whales’ normal feeding behavior, where they dive deep
in search of food.
So the researchers surmised there had to be another reason for the trips.
And some of their previous research provided a clue.
See, in 2011, researchers from that same group had observed that, at some times of the year,
the whales would be covered in a thick, yellow gunk from the buildup of algae.
Yet at other times, they’d be clean as a whistle.
So they proposed that these killer whales were taking a tropical vacation of sorts where
they would ditch the crud.
Because it’s pretty chilly down there in Antarctica, it’s thought that killer whales
limit circulation to their skin to prevent them from losing too much body heat.
But skin kind of needs that blood supply to churn out new skin cells and refresh itself.
Whales and dolphins who live in more temperate places can slough off their skin continuously.
But in cold water, that might mean too much heat loss.
So for these killer whales, traveling to warmer waters might mean they can open those blood
vessels, molt their old skin, and zip back home squeaky clean -- all without losing too
The authors suggest that other whales living in cold waters -- including humpback whales,
belugas, sperm whales, and gray whales -- might migrate for the same reason.
Now, one paper is definitely not enough to claim that all whales migrate as part of their
Plus, even if molting is one reason to travel, it doesn’t mean the other reasons -- like
decreased predation -- aren’t true.
Still, there’s definitely some evidence for the idea of the ocean spa day -- and as
reasons for taking a vacation go, it’s pretty relatable.
And our patrons definitely deserve a spa day, especially this month’s President of Space,
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