Whether through magnetic perception, solar or lunar guidance, landmarks, smell, echolocation, or any other method—many of earth’s creatures love to travel. Our planet is filled with overlapping migratory patterns that form the fabric of the earth’s natural systems. Whether through biology that is beyond our perception, travel patterns passed on through generations (such as elephants), or through sheer desperation in the face of shrinking habitats, animals are always on the move. This list includes fish, birds, mammals, and insects that exhibit their unique brands of awe-inspiring wanderlust.
10. Gray Whales
Any number of whales could be placed on this list as great migrators. Our oceans are interlaced with corridors that whales use in finding calm waters to birth their calves or cold waters to consume their share of krill. The gray whale serves as a premiere example of these marine mammals’ nomadic way of life. Hunted to near extinction by the early 20th century (and extirpated from the European coast), these creatures have made a comeback in the North Pacific Ocean. Every autumn, a group of these whales embark on a 3-4 month journey that begins in the Chukchi Sea and ends in the basking warm waters of Mexico. Since they are often chased by orcas, these gentle giants saunter along best they can. The Pacific gray whale migration is highly documented and has become a great source of ecotourism.
9. Flying Foxes
Australia is home to four distinct types of flying foxes (fruit bats). These bats can be sensitive to extreme heat, which they try to avoid best they can. Their susceptibility to heat stress (especially among grey-headed flying foxes) will become a further problem as the global climate continues to warm. Their migrations are fueled by the need for blossoming plants and the nectar they contain. So it is that they require a large range to operate efficiently, something that is becoming harder to come by due to deforestation and agriculture. They travel to and from a variety of habitats such as swamp, rainforests and other types of woodlands. The flying foxes will continue to share similar declining fates as the iconic koala, since both animals look to the eucalyptus trees as a main source of food.
8. Pacific Walrus
Walruses love to spend a portion of their year on ice and their summers on rocky terrain near the sea. During the deep freeze, their icy habit becomes too impenetrable for good fishing. This cycle will always lead to migration on an undetermined scale. Walruses might find something suitable close by or far away. Walruses in the Pacific tend to perform an epic journey from the Bering Sea through Bering Strait and to the pack ice of the frosty Chukchi Sea and vice versa. Females and calves are more migratory than the big bulls, and many calves are birthed during the northern trip. These animals have been hunted to near extinction many times, but enjoy joint protection from the USA and Russia, one of the few things we can agree on.
It has been well documented that many marine species of fish live a migratory life. Often it is these fish that are heavily targeted by commercial fishing. The reason being is a lack of international law concerning the harvesting of fish that migrate throughout the oceanic gyre. Tuna and types of fish like it travel around the entirety of the ocean and so cross a multitude of nations’ waters as well. One country thinks that if they do not harvest the fish then someone else will. The end result is a mass harvesting of (and extinction of many) types of migratory species of fish. Over half the species of tuna are facing extinction in the near future. Yet, in many of the world’s markets you can still purchase their meat fairly cheap. If we want to keep having our tuna sushi, we better start considering more sustainable options in fishing.
Regardless of the ocean of origin, salmon migrations are famously dramatic. These fish leave the ocean and enter freshwater rivers, swim upstream, and dodge predators at every turn. Perhaps the most widely publicized obstacles of this journey are the roadblocks that the grizzly bears set up along the way. These tubby mammals enjoy lining the tops of the many waterfalls along the way and sit down to fish. The salmon are force to make a leap of faith that either ends in a fresh batch of cold spring water or a terrifying crunching sound made by the mashing of their bones by massive bear-jaws. For every few hundred fish that make it past these furry fishermen, one gets filleted. The mission might seem suicidal, and that’s because it is. After all this effort—even if a salmon makes it where it wants to go—then the fish simply opens its mouth really wide like an underwater scream, mates, goes belly up, and dies. Their decaying carcasses are left to feed the ecosystem from whence they came.