This Giant Group of Whales Is Definitely Up to Something

Photo: Christopher Michel

You may have heard the story of Whale 52, otherwise known as the world’s loneliest whale — the one that’s spent years swimming solo through the Pacific ocean, singing a song that none of the other whales ever returned, searching fruitlessly for a buddy (or a booty call).

Well. This is not a story about lonely whales. This, in fact, is a story about whales who are a little too chummy for comfort: As Popular Science recently reported, there’s something of a whale convention in the water near South Africa, where humpbacks are currently gathering to feed in groups of up to 200 at a time.

There are two problems with this. The first is that humpback whales typically travel by themselves or with only a few other companions — to put it in perspective, scientists have previously considered gangs of 10 or 20 humpbacks to be unusually large groups. And the second, PopSci noted, is that these whales are many, many, many miles from where they’re supposed to be:

Humpbacks migrate up to tropical waters to breed, but they typically feed down south in the icy waters of Antarctica this time of year. Yet scientific expeditions keep seeing these super-pods (not to be confused with super PACs, which are equally giant but much more dangerous), which were finally compiled and published at the beginning of March in the journal PLOSone. The researchers have a few ideas about why the humpbacks are organizing, but no clear answers yet.

“These novel, predictable, inter-annual, low latitude feeding events provide considerable potential for further investigation,” the study authors wrote. Or, as PopSci more succinctly put it: “So far the consensus seems to be: this is pretty freakin’ weird.” And now that we know the reason humpback whales jump in the air — to communicate with their far-off brethren, by creating sonic messages through splashing — it doesn’t seem so far-fetched to conclude that this is the next step in some nefarious widespread plot. As we await our eventual demise at their hands flippers, we can only hope that someone remembered to invite Whale 52 to the party.

This Giant Group of Whales Is Definitely Up to Something