Deeper into Jeopardy! XXV: Critters – $800

Jeopardy! category: CRITTERS (17-09-2014)

$800 clue: The longest mammal migration was 6,200 miles when 1 of these “singing” whales swam from Brazil to Madagascar

Correct response

The gist: If you’ve been reading this blog since the beginning (of course you have!), you’ll definitely have gotten this one, since we covered singing whales way back in Deeper into Jeopardy! VI, when the topic was Tonga’s tourism industry. Far, far from Tonga, though, the female humpback whale in question here made her mega-migration between 1999, when she was tagged and sampled by marine biologists in Brazil, and 2001, when the skin pattern on the underside of her tail fluke (that’s the forked bit) was photographed by a whale-watcher off the coast of Madagascar – fluke patterns are unique and can be used by scientists to identify individual whales. Humpback whales, along with many other species, are frequent migraters. They usually migrate more latitudinally than longitudinally, from warmer birthing waters to colder feeding waters, and differences in longitude are usually just the result of the creatures following the shoreline where their preferred chow lives.

That makes this particular migration pretty remarkable, even ignoring its record-breaking length, since it was predominantly a latitudinal journey. Of course, getting around the southern tip of Africa from Brazil requires plenty of north-south travel as well. The scientists point out that their length estimate represents the shortest possible route, but it was probably longer, since the wanderlusty whale likely stopped off the coast of Antarctica to feed en route. However long it actually was, though, they also remark that we’re likely to find more and more such long-distance migrations as whale-tracking technologies like satellite tagging become more common. That’s because whale research is much more common in the northern hemisphere, where there’s both more money and less hostile research environments than in the southern. As southern hemisphere whale research takes off, we’re likely to see them going on similar marathons as the waters of the southern hemisphere, like the Southern Ocean, offer virtually unimpeded routes for the whales to take, unlike the island-choked northern hemisphere.

The fluke-pattern of the far-flung whale

The clue: As we learned in the last post on humpbacks, they’re the ones who “sing” – so if this clue brings up a mental list of migratory whales (which is impressive in itself), the mention of song ought to zero in on the humpbacks pretty quickly.

In Jeopardy!: Add another tick to the humpback’s column of Jeopardy! clues, bringing them to 26, which is still less popular than blue and killers. Their song and the shape (that is, their humps) are still the most common themes in their clues – in fact, whale migrations of any species are only mentioned in five clues, and this is the only one that’s about humpbacks specifically. Song and shape are still what you need to know abut humpbacks for Jeopardy!.

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