U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Published in MARINE MAMMAL SCIENCE, 20(4):774-786 (October 2004).


The seasonal distributions of humpback and blue whales (Megaptera novaeangliae and Balaenoptera musculus, respectively) in the North Atlantic Ocean are not fully understood. Although humpbacks have been studied intensively in nearshore or coastal feeding and breeding areas, their migratory movements between these areas have been largely inferred. Blue whales have only been studied intensively along the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and their seasonal occurrence and movements elsewhere in the North Atlantic are poorly known. We investigated the historical seasonal distributions of these two species using sighting and catch data extracted from American 18th and 19th century whaling logbooks. These data suggest that humpback whales migrated seasonally from low-latitude calving/ breeding grounds over a protracted period, and that some of them traveled far offshore rather than following coastal routes. Also, at least some humpbacks apparently fed early in the summer west of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, well south of their known present-day feeding grounds. In assessing the present status of the North Atlantic humpback population, it will be important to determine whether such offshore feeding does in fact occur. Blue whales were present across the southern half of the North Atlantic during the autumn and winter months, and farther north in spring and summer, but we had too few data points to support inferences about these whales’ migratory timing and routes.