The Largest Beast’s Long Migration

Blue whales shock us with their size. But their efficiency and endurance are greater still. /

So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it. . . . And God saw that it was good (Gen. 1:21).

Moving fast in water burns your energy budget at ruinous rates, but another challenge presented by the wide ocean is the possibility of long-distance migrations. From some parts of Antarctica, a gaze due north runs across open ocean all the way to the Arctic Circle. Such broad swaths of habitat are opportunities for very long distance travel—and some ocean species use them. Powering those migrations demands different solutions than the solutions for speed.

Thirty feet deep in the open ocean, the blue varies from transparent to a dusky dark that seems to swallow light. Waves march above in a long repeating line, striving for the nearest shore, thousands of miles away. A silence lies throughout the sea like unbroken fog.

Unexpectedly, a shape slips past, giant and dark, with a powerful flat tail and two wide fins splayed out to either side. A second, smaller shape ghosts behind. They rise to the surface synchronously, blow several fishy-smelling notes in quick succession, and sink back to their placid hike.

When they are gone, the ocean returns to empty waiting.

Some of the longest migrations on our planet are by swimmers. Blue whales slip from the Southern Ocean near Antarctica to subequatorial seas. Humpbacks announce their annual return to Hawaii, after a long swim from Alaska, with shows of exuberance above the water and majestic operas beneath. Gray whales leave their foraging grounds in the Bering Sea and meander down the coast of California to breeding lagoons in Baja Mexico.

For humans, swimming is wonderful exercise, because ...

Follow The Behemoth on Twitter and Facebook.

Also in this Issue

Issue 21 / April 30, 2015
  1. Editors’ Note

    Issue 21: Redeeming the Law, whale migration, cell sacrifice, and farsightedness.

  2. I Fought the Law

    Now I think it’s time to rehabilitate its unsavory reputation. /

  3. Greater Love Has No Cell

    The biblical allegory written into our bodies. /

  4. Presbyopia

    ‘By some miracle, she felt a lifting / lost the tyranny and weight of near things’ /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Links to amazing stuff /

Issue Archives