Migratory insights from singing humpback whales recorded around central New Zealand

Victoria E. Warren*, Rochelle Constantine, Michael Noad, Claire Garrigue, Ellen C. Garland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
1 Downloads (Pure)


The migration routes of wide-ranging species can be difficult to study, particularly at sea. In the western South Pacific, migratory routes of humpback whales between breeding and feeding areas are unclear. Male humpback whales sing a population-specific song, which can be used to match singers on migration to a breeding population. To investigate migratory routes and breeding area connections, passive acoustic recorders were deployed in the central New Zealand migratory corridor (2016); recorded humpback whale song was compared to song from the closest breeding populations of East Australia and New Caledonia (2015-2017). Singing northbound whales migrated past New Zealand from June to August via the east coast of the South Island and Cook Strait. Few song detections were made along the east coast of the North Island. New Zealand song matched New Caledonia song, suggesting a migratory destination, but connectivity to East Australia could not be ruled out. Two song types were present in New Zealand, illustrating the potential for easterly song transmission from East Australia to New Caledonia in this shared migratory corridor. This study enhances our understanding of western South Pacific humpback whale breeding population connectivity, and provides novel insights into the dynamic transmission of song culture.
Original languageEnglish
Article number201084
Number of pages15
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 18 Nov 2020


  • Passive acoustic monitoring
  • Cultural transmission
  • Humpback whale
  • Migration
  • Vocal learning


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