To the whales, at least to some, like to go … in the mountains: a team of marine biologists led by Claire Garrigue of Opération Cétacés recently discovered that the humpback whales of New Caledonia (Megaptera novaeangliae) love to stay in the waters next to the underwater mountain ranges.
The reason for this behavior, for now, is unknown, but according to the Garrigue these habitats should also be protected for the purpose of conservation of the species.
Where the whales dare. The researchers, thanks to satellite transmitters, followed 34 humpback whales during their migration between New Caledonia, where they reproduce, and the waters of the Antarctic where they feed.
The analysis of the traces allowed to observe how not all whales follow the same route but how they all stopped from three days to three weeks near the submarine reliefs.
This behavior may have mistakenly led researchers, over the years, to underestimate the number of existing humpback whales because submerged mountains have never been studied systematically.
But why do cetaceans make these stops? And why exactly near the reliefs? The hypotheses on the table of scientists are the most varied.
Motel for humpback whales. They could be used by animals as a point of reference during their long journey or they could be species of "autogrill" of the seas where cetaceans refresh after the period of reproduction during which they fasted.
Or they could only be fairly sheltered rest areas where they stop to rest during the migration. Or, again, they could be areas used by males for preparatory activities for mating, such as singing.
The most interesting aspect is that humpback whales are not the only habitués of submerged reliefs: even tuna, hammerhead sharks, other large fish and several sea birds seem to have the same habit. But why they gather down there, it remains a mystery.