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A Trans-Pacific Movement Reveals Regular Migrations of Humpback Whales Megaptera novaeangliae Between Russia and Mexico

September 28, 2023

Data demonstrating regular trans-Pacific movements of humpback whales in the North Pacific, highlighting the importance of Mexico for the species ocean-basin-wide.

Humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae undertake extensive annual migrations, have complex migratory patterns, and have held several mammalian long-distance movement records. Here, we report on a whale known to feed in the Russian Far East that was sighted in breeding areas on either side of the North Pacific, the Mariana Islands and Mexico, in less than 1 year.

This is the longest published distance (11261 km great-circle route) between 2 unique sightings of a photo-identified humpback whale to date. To understand the context of this movement, we investigated records of whales that had been sighted in Russian feeding areas and Mexican breeding areas using historic and newly available photo-identification data. We found 117 humpback whales documented in both countries between 1998 and 2021, revealing a substantial increase from the only 11 matches that were previously known.

These whales exhibited high site fidelity to Mexico, with one-third seen in multiple years, and up to 10 yr. However, we also found that they changed breeding areas more frequently than Mexico whales matched to other feeding areas, illustrating how the Mariana Islands-Mexico movement may have occurred. We document the first complete round-trip migrations between Mexico and Russia, a journey of >16400 km, the longest known migration of Northern Hemisphere humpback whales.

Our data demonstrate regular trans-Pacific movements of humpback whales in the North Pacific, highlighting the importance of Mexico for the species ocean-basin-wide and the need for effective local management to aid in the conservation of multiple at-risk distinct population segments.

Ransome N, Frisch-Jordan A, Titova OV, Filatova OA, Hill MC, Cheeseman T, Bradford AL, Urban J, Martinez-Loustalot P, Calambokidis J, Medrano-Gonzalez L, Burdin AM, Fedutin ID, Loneragan NR, Smith JN 2023. A trans-Pacific movement reveals regular migrations of humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae between Russia and Mexico Endang Species Res 52:65-79.

Last updated by Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center on 11/07/2023