The Southern Ocean Exchange: porous boundaries between humpback whale breeding populations in southern polar waters
Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are a cosmopolitan species and perform long annual migrations between low-latitude breeding areas and high-latitude feeding areas. Their breeding populations appear to be spatially and genetically segregated due to long-term, maternally inherited fidelity to natal breeding areas. In the Southern Hemisphere, some humpback whale breeding populations mix in Southern Ocean waters in summer, but very little movement between Pacific and Atlantic waters has been identified to date, suggesting these waters constituted an oceanic boundary between genetically distinct populations. Here, we present new evidence of summer co-occurrence in the West Antarctic Peninsula feeding area of two recovering humpback whale breeding populations from the Atlantic (Brazil) and Pacific (Central and South America). As humpback whale populations recover, observations like this point to the need to revise our perceptions of boundaries between stocks, particularly on high latitude feeding grounds. We suggest that this "Southern Ocean Exchange" may become more frequent as populations recover from commercial whaling and climate change modifies environmental dynamics and humpback whale prey availability.