Fascinating wildlife lovers and researchers are the annual migrations undertaken by animals as part of their rich and varied lives. For example, the great wildebeest migration in the Serengeti is arguably the most popular wildlife attraction in Tanzania.
One of the most interesting migration paths is the route from Antarctica to Southern Africa – two polar opposite climates with nothing in common, you might think.
In fact, Antarctica and Southern Africa have a fair few things in common in the form of birds and marine life migration.
So, without further ado, here is our in-depth list of said migrations and how exactly they pan out each year in the truly spectacular circle of life.
Migrations from Antarctica to Southern Africa
1. Blue Petrel
The blue petrel bird is abundant in Antarctica, much to the delight of cruise tourists and researchers. Their gorgeous blue-grey colour and silk soft texture is very aesthetically pleasing, especially juxtaposed against the harsh royal blue Antarctic Ocean.
In terms of the blue petrel’s migration journey, they fly from Antarctica to South Africa each winter – one of the longest bird migrations of them all. On their journey, the blue petrel can feed off of the foul-smelling stomach oil they produce and also fight off prey by spraying it at them. This foul odour is unique and not found in many bird species, so the blue petrel’s biology, alongside its flight path, is something to be marvelled at.
In addition to this, blue petrels can also be found to track the movements of whales in the oceans. This is because whales typically drive prey fish closer to the surface of the ocean, making it easy for the blue petrels, which can dive up to six metres, to catch prey.
2. Southern Right Whale
Southern right whales are one of the most favoured whale species on the planet. Named after their being the ‘right’ whale to kill as they float when they die due to high blubber content and are an easy target as they swim slowly (around six miles per hour), the southern right migrates from Antarctica to South Africa via the seas.
Upon the southern right’s arrival in Southern Africa’s shallow, sandy and golden beaches, they begin to give birth and mate – the sole reason for their journey in the first place. The calmer waters provide a safe haven for the whales and add to their likeability by about one million per cent.
One of the reasons for the whales being present in Antarctica is due to the zooplankton and krill which makes up their diet. Southern rights weigh on average 70 tons and reach up to 50ft long in adulthood, hence their eating 2,600 pounds of plankton every day.
The southern right’s migration route certainly takes them a while, but it is worth it in the end when they all congregate to begin the process of continuing on their species – something they do quite a few times in just one lifetime as their average lifespan is 70 years.
3. Arctic Tern
The animal best known for its migration from Antarctica to Southern Africa is the Arctic tern. Arctic terns weigh just 100 grams and in its lifetime of a maximum 34 years, travels three trips around the moon. This spectacular bird travels 44,000 miles each year in its pole to pole migration, and has simply wowed scientists and researchers with its stamina.
Arctic terns escape the harsh Arctic winter by migrating during this period, and have also learned how to pace themselves during this incredible flight. After scientists tagged terns before their migration, they found that the bird stopped at one point in the Atlantic Ocean – a chance to ‘refuel’ before they flew over parts of the ocean with little chance to forage for food.
Upon their flight back to the Arctic, the terns still refuse to take the shortest route and it takes them another 22,000 miles while tracing a giant ‘S’ shape on a map. The primary reason for this mighty migration is, of course, breeding. The breeding grounds for the tern are Greenland and the Weddell Sea, with the birds flying between these areas during its migration. It’s safe to say that this species in particular is one of the most fascinating of all.
4. Humpback Whale
Humpback whales are one of the best-researched whales on Earth, their migration route is around 5,000km on average and is due to breeding and calving mainly, which is done in the warmer waters of the Pacific.
In the summer months, humpback whales tend to accumulate in Antarctica for one large feed on krill and fish. This feeding, though it may first appear gluttonous, is actually incredibly intelligent. Humpback whales are actually stocking up on food to last them through the winter months when they find themselves in seas not as plentiful with food as Antarctica.
It is worth remembering that the humpback whales, which are an incredible species, weigh up to 30,000kg and eat around 1.5 tons of food each day, so during their winter, their time in Antarctica feeding is well spent and their migration story is not only fantastic, but incredibly logical.