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From the Antarctic Peninsula to eastern Australia: the longest migration of a humpback whale through the South Pacific Ocean

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Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) seasonally migrate between their corresponding breeding and feeding grounds; however, some individual whales deviate from this pattern migrating to different breeding or feeding grounds. Here, we report the first recorded movement of a humpback whale between the Antarctic Peninsula and the east coast of Australia. The individual whale, a known female, was identified by natural markings in the Antarctic Peninsula feeding area, and then photographed 15 years later in Byron Bay, on the eastern coast of Australia. This constitutes the longest migration for any humpback whale documented to date in the South Pacific Ocean and in the Southern Hemisphere (143° of longitude). Although the route is uncertain and the cues may be environmental, social or demographic, or some combinations thereof, this exceptional movement between two distant Breeding Stocks in the South Pacific Ocean demonstrates that longitudinal long-distance migrations among humpback whale populations do take place, at least occasionally, and perhaps may not be as atypical as it has been thought.

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  • 26 June 2022

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We thank Antonio Larrea for assisting in the field with photo-identification for the Antarctic Peninsula research and organizing the INACH catalogue. Funding for the Antarctic Peninsula research was provided by the Chilean Antarctic Institute, via projects INACH-08-93 and INACH-163 to one of us (AAL). The study of humpback whales in Byron Bay was supported by Whale Watching Byron Bay. We also thank Phil Clapham for his observations and comments provided in an early version, as well as Guest Editor Stephen C.Y. Chan, Lead Editor Leszek Karczmarski and anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments.


Chilean Antarctic Institute via projects INACH-08-93 and INACH-163.

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TC matched the whale encounters in the Happywhale web platform. JA coordinated the note and was responsible for writing the draft manuscript. AA, CO and PB contributed data. All authors contributed to drafting and editing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jorge Acevedo.

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On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

The whale studies at Antarctic Peninsula were carried out under the Permission of the Chilean Antarctic Institute. Whale research in Byron Bay was conducted under NSW National Parks and Wildlife Scientific License #S10403 (2008-2011) and #SL100446 (2011-2015).

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Handling editors: Stephen C.Y. Chan and Leszek Karczmarski.

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This article is a contribution to the special issue on “Individual Identification and Photographic Techniques in Mammalian Ecological and Behavioural Research – Part 2: Field Studies and Applications” — Editors: Leszek Karczmarski, Stephen C.Y. Chan, Scott Y.S. Chui and Elissa Z. Cameron.

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Acevedo, J., Aguayo-Lobo, A., Beeman, P. et al. From the Antarctic Peninsula to eastern Australia: the longest migration of a humpback whale through the South Pacific Ocean. Mamm Biol (2022).

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  • Antarctic Peninsula
  • Eastern Australia
  • Humpback whales
  • Migration
  • Photo ID