Killer whales migrate, study finds, but why?

PARIS, October 25, 2011 (AFP) – Some killer whales, a study published Wednesday shows for the first time, wander nearly 10,000 kilometres (6,200 miles) from Antarctica’s Southern Ocean into tropical waters — but not to feed or breed. Rather, these fearsome predators at the apex of the marine food chain traverse the sea at top speed — slowing as they reach warmer climes — to exfoliate, the study speculates.

They are driven, in other words, by the urge or need to make their skin all shiny and new.

Despite our intense fascination with seal-chomping orcas, next to nothing was known about their long-haul movements, or whether they migrate at all.

To find out more, John Durban and Robert Pitman of the US National Marine Fisheries Service fitted a dozen so-called “type B” killer whales off the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula with satellite transmitters.

In January 2009, the scientists used bolt-shooting crossbows to attached tags to the five-tonne mammals’ dorsal fins from a distance of five to 15 metres (15 to 50 feet).

“Type B” orcas inhabit the inshore waters of Antarctica near pack ice, the better to feed on seals and penguins. Type A killer whales prefer open water and a diet of minke whales, and the sma