As you or your loved ones prepare to head home for the holidays, the team at Marine Conservation Institute wants to tell you about 5 amazing marine animals that are also traveling this holiday season: Pacific leatherback sea turtles, Atlantic bluefin tuna, southern right whales, wandering albatrosses and whale sharks. In fact, these long-distance voyagers will collectively travel a total of 28,000 miles to get home. That is over one lap around the entire planet ― makes your upcoming trip sound a bit more manageable, eh?
Our featured critters are big and small, feathery and blubbery, but one thing they all have in common is that they travel the planet in search of the best places to eat and breed. Now that’s dedication!
Soon after hatching in Papua Barat, Indonesia, newborn Pacific leatherback turtles travel an astonishing 6,000 miles or more each year in search of jellyfish in Monterey Bay, California, crossing the entire Pacific Ocean from Asia to the West Coast of the United States. After their open-sea journey, leatherbacks return to their specific breeding site ― a feat possible only by relying on their extraordinary ocean navigation abilities.
The Atlantic bluefin tuna is one of the world’s fastest fishes. With torpedo-shaped, streamlined bodies and camouflaged coloring, this fish is well equipped for long migrations. Shooting through the water at speeds up to 45 miles per hour, the eastern population of Atlantic bluefin tuna undertakes a transatlantic journey of almost 4,000 miles to breed in the Mediterranean Bay of Biscay and forage northeast of Cuba in the Gulf of Mexico.
The southern right whale’s journey starts in the icy waters of Antarctica in the Southern Ocean. Between May and September, southern right whales make a 4,000-mile journey north to breed mainly in South Australia.
With the longest wingspan (up to 11 feet!) of any bird, wandering albatross ride the ocean winds and glide for hours without resting or flapping their wings. Wandering albatrosses cover huge distances when leaving their breeding grounds around South Georgia Island to forage for food in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica. They can cover over 6,000 miles in 10–20 days.
And the winner for longest voyage of our five critters? The largest fish in the sea, whale sharks travel 8,000 thousand miles in search of plankton and breeding grounds. Satellite tracking of whale sharks suggests that whale sharks can travel great distances from their breeding grounds around Taiwan to forage near the Yucatan Peninsula. Whale sharks are generally site-faithful, returning regularly to the same seasonal feeding locations.
Unfortunately, another thing that these 5 species all have in common is that they are listed as threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Fishing and other human activities have led to significant declines in marine life of all kinds. We now risk mass extinction in the seas and severe reductions of the critical benefits provided by the oceans, such as fresh seafood, breathable air and a livable climate.
Ocean ecosystems contain a wide variety of species and protecting large regions of ocean in strongly protected marine areas is the most effective way to safeguard marine life. Marine Conservation Institute is working on a major initiative, the Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES), designed to catalyze strong protection for at least 20% of the ecosystems in each marine biogeographic region of the world’s oceans by 2030, enough to avert mass extinction of marine life. Learn more about this important initiative on our GLORES website!
Safe travels and happy holidays from your friends at Marine Conservation Institute!