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The Reason for Humpback Whale Migration - Their Skin

humpback whale migration

Other than our love of the ocean and all its creatures, it turns out Sealuxe has another thing in common with whales – healthy skin.

Scientists recently discovered that one of the big reasons whales such as baleens (humpbacks and blues) and toothed whales (sperm and orcas) travel between their feeding grounds in the Arctic to warmer seas is to take care of their skin.

A team of researchers lead by Robert Pitman, who is a marine ecologist at Oregon State University’s Marine Mammals Institute, discovered that the migration isn’t due to giving birth in tropical waters, as originally thought. This hypothesis, called “feed-in-the cold, breed-in-the-warmth” was based on the idea that whales traveled to tropical waters to give birth far from their cold-water predators.

According to an article titled “Scientists say they’ve cracked the mystery of why whales migrate – and it’s all about healthy skin” Pitman told writer Virginia Morell that the humpback whales that were studied migrating up Australia’s eastern coast left a trail of epidermal cells.

“But in the cold Antarctic seas, the whales are apparently unable to molt. Instead, they build up a thick, yellow film of microscopic diatoms on their skin. High concentrations of diatoms can accumulate potentially harmful bacteria, adversely affecting both killer and baleen whales.”

Scientists figure that killer whales divert blood flow away from their skin to conserve body heat in cold waters. This causes a slowdown in skin cell regeneration and this is what drives the whales to warmer waters where their metabolism and molting speeds up.

Pitman’s study was conducted between January 2009 to February 2016. Sixty-two Antarctic killer whales were tagged to support the “feeding/molting” hypothesis. Scientists believe that all whales migrate for this very reason.