U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Published in J. Zool., Lond. (2003) 259, 231–237.


Results from a large-scale, capture–recapture study of humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae in the North Atlantic show that migration timing is influenced by feeding ground origin. No significant differences were observed in the number of individuals from any feeding area that were re-sighted in the common breeding area in the West Indies. However, there was a relationship between the proportion (logit transformed) of West Indies sightings and longitude (r2 = 0.97, F1,3 = 98.27, P = 0.0022) suggesting that individuals feeding farther to the east are less likely to winter in the West Indies. A relationship was also detected between sighting date in the West Indies and feeding area. Mean sighting dates in the West Indies for individuals identified in the Gulf of Maine and eastern Canada were significantly earlier than those for animals identified in Greenland, Iceland and Norway (9.97 days, t179 = 3.53, P = 0.00054). There was also evidence for sexual segregation in migration; males were seen earlier on the breeding ground than were females (6.63 days, t105 = 1.98, P = 0.050). This pattern was consistently observed for animals from all feeding areas; a combined model showed a significant effect for both sex (F1 = 5.942, P = 0.017) and feeding area (F3 =4.756, P=0.0038). The temporal difference in occupancy of the West Indies between individuals from different feeding areas, coupled with sexual differences in migratory patterns, presents the possibility that there are reduced mating opportunities between individuals from different high latitude areas.