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There and back again: multiple and return exchange of humpback whales between breeding habitats separated by an ocean basin

  • Peter T. Stevick (a1), Simon D. Berrow (a2) (a3), Martine Bérubé (a4), Laurent Bouveret (a5), Fredrik Broms (a6), Beatrice Jann (a7), Amy Kennedy (a8), Pedro López Suárez (a9) (a10), Marine Meunier (a5), Conor Ryan (a2) (a3) and Frederick Wenzel (a11)...


In species that aggregate for reproduction, the social and fitness costs of movement between groups frequently lead to restricted exchange between breeding areas. We report on four individual humpback whales identified in both the Cape Verde Islands and Guadeloupe; locations separated by an ocean basin and >4000 km. This rate of exchange is rarely encountered between such geographically discrete breeding areas. Two individuals returned to the area where they were originally identified. In contrast, no individuals from the Cape Verde Islands were resighted to the much larger sample from the Dominican Republic, though the migratory distances from the feeding areas are comparable between these areas. The social factors driving the stark difference between groups that is observed here are not clear. Effective conservation requires an understanding of the extent and pattern of movement between population units. The findings presented here suggest that there may well be more than one behaviourally distinct group within the West Indies. More broadly, they argue that considerable caution is warranted in assumptions made regarding the number, boundaries and status of population units based solely on spatial separation or proximity.


Corresponding author

Correspondence should be addressed to:Peter T. Stevick, College of the Atlantic, 105 Eden St, Bar Harbor, ME 04856, USA email:


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