Migration pattern of blue whales – Wild Voyager Blog
Migration pattern of blue whales

Migration pattern of blue whales

The blue whale is a magnificent and the largest animal to ever live. This animal reaches lengths of around 110 feet or 33 meters and weighs at least 209 tons or 190 tons. It means that a typical blue whale is half the length of a football field and just about 20 feet longer than a professional NBA court. Interestingly enough, if such an animal ever existed on land, it would be crushed under its own weight.

Because of its size, speed and power, the blue whale has virtually no natural predators in the ocean. However, despite how huge this animal measures and weighs, it remains completely harmless to humans. 

The spectacular blue whale
The spectacular blue whale

Blue whales are found in all the oceans around the world except parts of the Arctic that remain covered in ice throughout most of the year. There are three populations of blue whales: North Atlantic, North Pacific, and southern hemisphere.

Unfortunately, after commercial whaling, blue whales are the hardest hit species that have been slow to recover since 1966. They are still viewed as endangered and face threats such as vessel strikes, entanglements in fishing gear, and collisions with ships.

The migration of blue whales

Blue whales migrate in search of food, water, as well as seek calving and nursing areas seasonally. However, despite their large size, scientists still consider the travel patterns of blue whales a major mystery.

What experts do know is that since blue whales are found in all the oceans, they generally embark on lengthy migrations towards equatorial waters in the winters and feed in polar waters in the summer.

A pair of young blue whales
A pair of young blue whales

Every year, blue whales migrate and cover approximately 4000 miles. First, they feast on krill in the warm summer months before traveling southward towards their mating grounds in the winter. Many female blue whales are reported to give birth during the southernmost leg of their journey in the warm waters.

Yet, these migration patterns do not apply to all blue whales worldwide. Some of them may travel only shorter distances to reproduce and feed while other blue whales take annual trips from polar to the equatorial waters.

Blue whales choose to swim in either small groups, in pairs or completely alone. They typically swim at about 5 miles an hour as they feed and travel. However, they can accelerate their speed to more than 20 miles an hour for short bursts.

Blue whales and their songs

Blue whales, notable for their size, are also regarded highly for their vocalizations. They string together their low frequency and deep trills and compose songs loud enough to be heard while they travel underwater. Since they are among the loudest animals on earth, in the right oceanographic conditions, sounds emitted by blue whales can be heard by other whales up to 1000 miles away.

A recent study discovered that throughout the warmer summer months, male blue whales sing, especially at night. But, when it’s time to migrate to warmer waters, they prefer to sing during the day. Moreover, experts also noted that their singing patterns vary according to the whale’s feeding and mating cycles.

A blue whale breaching in Inside Passage, Alaska
A blue whale breaching in Inside Passage, Alaska

When an underwater microphone was dropped 3,000 feet deep into Monterey Bay, it recorded the bay’s underwater soundscape consistently for over five years. This experiment provided William Oestreich, a biological oceanographer at Stanford University, and his team with some interesting and striking patterns.

The team separated the daytime and nighttime songs from each other. Moreover, when krill dispersed at night, the blue whales continued to sing for up to 12 hours on end. In total, the research team recorded 4,00 songs before migration which the whales sang more at night than during the day. But when they were full of krill and started swimming towards the south, they sang more during the day than at night.

It is still unsure what purpose does a whale fulfills while singing but these studies suggest that information about reproduction, behavior, and migration can be embedded into their songs.

Blue whales and their migration areas

According to some pieces of evidence, few species of the blue whale might not migrate at all. Those who do are largely driven by food availability wherein they travel to areas where more krill are concentrated.

In the Southern Hemisphere, Antarctic blue whales are often sighted in relatively high latitude waters and even closer to the ice edge in summer. They further migrate to middle and low latitudes in winter. The subspecies of blue whales that are typically distributed north of the Antarctic Convergence are the pygmy blue whales. They are also abundant in the waters of New Zealand, Madagascar, and Australia.

A female blue whale with a calf
A female blue whale with a calf

In the North Atlantic Ocean, the range of the blue whales extends from the subtropics to the Greenland Sea. They are sighted in the waters off of the Eastern United States and Eastern Canada. Blue whales are also believed to spend winters off of Mexico and Central America. They likely feed off the US West Coast, during the summer.

Moreover, blue whales with young calves are often observed in the Gulf of California or the Sea of Cortez. This region serves as an important nursing and calving area for the blue whale species.

The best places to spot blue whales

It is a different experience to watch the blue whale swim in the water and breach perfectly. Here are the best spots to go on a thrilling whale cruise and meet the world’s largest mammal:

  • Monterey Bay in California from August to September
  • Baja California in Mexico from November to late December
  • Reykjavik in Iceland from May to August
  • Saguenay in Quebec between May to October
  • Mirissa in Sri Lanka from November to April
  • Pico Island in Portugal from February to March
A blue whale swims through the waters of California
A blue whale swims through the waters of California

It is undoubtedly special to see blue whales thrive in their natural habitat. With increasing research, we might even understand the true meaning of the blue whale migration patterns sooner or later. But for now, one can always enjoy an exciting whale-watching cruise!


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