(20) BeautifulPlanet: The Migrating World

Listen to the episode HERE.

– Photo by Jorge Tung from Unsplash

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INTRO: Hello and welcome to Mind Full of Everything with me, Agrita, a podcast giving an insight to the minds of deep thinkers, where in each episode I’ll be discussing various thoughts and questions deep thinkers often find themselves mind full of, from topics such as climate change to self-development and everything else in between. So, let the journey of mind unraveling begin now!

Hello deep thinkers! Welcome back to the Beautiful Planet series. This is the third episode of the series, and if you haven’t listened to the first two, I do recommend that you do. Before I begin today’s episode, I just wanted to go through two updates. 

It’s been a few seconds into this episode, I don’t know if you realized, but the sound quality is significantly different. It’s so much better than my previous episodes! Before I was using the Snowball ICE, and now I’m using the Samson Q2U and literally, I got it yesterday, I felt like to cry listening to how great the sound quality is! I literally wasted my podcasting months before, I should have used this mic ages ago. It’s only £13-14 more than the Snowball ICE, yet the sound quality difference is amazing. So, the moral of the story is…don’t think that if you buy a mic that’s like £10 less than another mic, that you’re not going to get a significant difference in sound quality because you really, really are. This is no way an advertisement, I’m not being sponsored by Samson. I just wanted to spend some time saying how beautiful this mic is, and if you want to start your own podcast, if you have your own podcast already, if you just want a mic, definitely get this. At least if you’re starting out. 

The second update is that yesterday on my Instagram story, hopefully you follow @mindfullofeverything_pod (follow HERE), I mentioned that I’m going to be transcribing all of my episodes gradually. I have the latest episode transcript already on my website (HERE) so do check that out. There are many reasons as to why I wanted to transcribe, but the main reason is that I’ve realized that Mind Full of Everything is not really friendly for people with hearing difficulties or people that prefer text/blogs instead of audio because of just how hectic their schedule is. Or maybe they just don’t really like listening to people talk (laughs) so I thought, okay, transcription is definitely something that my podcast is missing out on. So now I’m going to be transcribing hopefully all of my episodes very quickly, so those will be up and available to you. I am a one-woman show, so it’s definitely going to take more time than somebody perhaps hiring somebody to transcribe for them, if there’s more than one host, it’s going to obviously be quicker. I do have a website that I can try to transcribe from, but it’s 90% accurate, so I have to go back and edit and make sure that everything is correct so people can read it and not get confused about what I’m talking about. When all of those transcripts, or at least the first five transcripts are available, I will let you all know. The first transcript is already up, like I mentioned, so please do check it out if you want to. So, with the logistics part of the episode done, let’s begin today’s episode!

Animal migration is perhaps the largest phenomenon to occur in the animal kingdom, not just the animal kingdom, birds, insects, it could all go on, any organism that is mobile. Migrations are a powerful and very important and also very beautiful phenomenon to exist. It is much more different than just movement of animals, birds, insects, because it happens on a greater scale. It’s more complex than any movement that actually occurs, it’s not random. It is coordinated. It is necessary for an organism’s life cycle. Migrations are a collective travel of many species together in which they transport themselves from one habitat that they’re kind of used to, to a completely different habitat. 

People usually associate migration to highly mobile species like birds, and this is because scientists have studied birds in a lot of detail, especially in terms of their migration patterns. But migration is not just limited to birds. It occurs in many species, many large species that we can see and many small ones that we can’t see, or at least we don’t pay attention to. Migrations can take place in whatever sort of pattern, structure or scale possible. It is all really dependent on the organism, on the species and their requirements. So, migrations can go from east to west, you can have round trips from one place to the next and back, you can have migrations on land and through water or both. You can have journeys up and down a mountain, that also counts as a migration. You can have vertical movements in even water columns! Essentially, the type of migration will be very intrinsic to that species, making it unique to that species. 

The Arctic tern is one species that has been studied by scientists for a long period of time. It holds a record for the world’s longest migration; it flies from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back every single year. Each Arctic tern travels around 44,000 miles all together every single year. The terns can live up to 30 years or even more than that, so throughout its entire lifetime, a single tern can travel about 1.5 million miles, and that is equivalent to three trips to the moon and back. Remembering that they only weigh 113g, a tiny little bird relative to us and relative to other animals, other birds even, can travel the equivalent to three trips to the moon and back in its entire lifetime. If that isn’t amazing, I don’t know what it is! 

If it was physically possible, the Arctic tern could complete its journey within a few days, but it does stop for feeding purposes and for resting as well, and that can take up to a month. The terns prefer to rest in the open Atlantic Ocean where they can feed, they can also rest before flying into the tropics. What’s really different about their migration pattern is that their route is not linear. So, they don’t just go from Greenland straight to Antarctica and then back, they have a more zigzag pattern going on, especially when they’re returning back to the Arctic, back to Greenland.

So, the routes would go from Antarctica to Africa to South America and then back to the Arctic. And this really does take them longer than just taking a linear route, but they do this because of wind patterns. If they were to go linear, they would be facing a lot of strong winds, and that would just be using a lot of their energy when they’re trying to fly through those winds. So, what they do is that they go through the zigzag so that they can avoid those wins essentially, even though they’re flying several thousand kilometers more than the linear route, or as long as the linear route would take them. So, you would probably label this as just them traveling to get more food, but scientists are still not really sure why they actually do this because the distance they travel is too long for just food, even though Antarctica has rich feeding grounds. Even then, why would they travel that far just for food? So, scientists can’t really pinpoint down a true reason as to why they do this.

Another bird that travels big distances is the Bar-tailed godwit. The longest nonstop migration to have been recorded is by a female godwit who flew 7,145 miles nonstop from Alaska to New Zealand, and she didn’t stop for any water or food stops, and she was able to complete that journey in nine days. In fact, all godwits do this. They make an annual trip directly across the Pacific, so the open Pacific Ocean, instead of going along the East Asian coast, which is really peculiar because they’re known as shorebirds, so you’d expect them to go down the coastal route, but instead they’re flying straight across the Pacific Ocean. And what makes them different from the Arctic tern is that they have no food or water stops. They don’t stop at all. They go straight to wherever they’re going to. Again, their migration pattern has really confused scientists; they just don’t understand why these birds, these small birds would travel so long distances just for food. If they went across the East Asian coast, it would still kind of make sense, but the fact that they’re going across the open Pacific Ocean, that doesn’t really make sense, just for food and it’s such a treacherous journey. They don’t stop at all for water or food breaks, even rest breaks. They go straight to their destination. They are one of the few birds, few organisms to actually do this. 

The way they make this possible, because it really does seem impossible, is that they fly through areas that they can literally be carried by the wind and the only region where they need to use some of their energy is the Intertropical Convergence zone, which is near the equator. It’s a windless region, so they do need to use energy that they’ve stored before migrating to fly across that zone. But apart from that, literally the wind can carry them. They’re very light birds as well, they can weigh around about 600g, so they can be literally be carried by the wind. What’s concerning though, is that these birds are nearly endangered. They are threatened because they are shorebirds and there’s been a lot of land use change because of humans, of course, to shores. Because if a population is increasing, you’re going to be increasing the number of houses along shores, so they have really been affected by this, particularly in the Yellow Sea region, and they really depend on the shores for gathering food and for breeding. So, it’s definitely impacting their numbers. 

I mentioned at the beginning of the episode that it’s not just birds that migrate long distances. Insects like aphids, have actually shown to be travelling great distances for their body size and for the organisms are they are. Corn leaf aphids are only 2mm long yet they’re able to travel 620 miles from Texas to Illinois, just for food supply. And they’re able to do this by being attracted to lighter yellow shades of young growing plants so that they can attack them and of course feed off them. Once they fed off them and adjacent plants, they’re able to move along and be attracted to lighter green or yellow shades. You would never imagine a tiny little aphid making a journey from Texas to Illinois just for food really. Again, it’s really intrinsic to them, it’s an inherent habit that they portray, and they are able to travel more than 600 miles just to get that food supply and support them and their offspring. You can imagine though, if there are so many aphids traveling this far of a distance, it’s going to be really dangerous for them. A lot of predatory birds will be attracted by seeing so many aphids, they are going to definitely be predated on very easily, but to come over this, to compensate for losses, they keep their reproduction rates high. So even though a bird comes over and tries to feed on them, there’s not going to be that much of a loss because they’re already so many aphids. Once again, it’s another migration that scientist just don’t understand, why would these small little aphids travel so big of a distance, especially seeing how small they are, just for food. I think throughout all of the examples I’m going to be giving you, that is the main conclusion: scientists don’t understand why these organisms are traveling so far just for food. So, it’s led many people to think perhaps there’s a greater meaning behind all of this, and it’s not just food or survival. More to that, a bit later on! 

Moving along to the bigger organisms, the Wildebeest are known to have the most dramatic of all migrations in terms of the impact they make when they do migrate in their big, big herds. For all the Disney lovers, I’m talking about that tragic scene when Mufasa dies because of the Wildebeest coming in and running through the canyon, that is what I’m talking about. Of course, in the movie, they didn’t show that many Wildebeest, but in real life, millions of Wildebeest migrate together, so you can imagine the impact of that migration. It would be like a little mini earthquake happening for any organism or any person to actually see their migration. Not only is it so dramatic, it is also known to be the largest terrestrial movement of animals on planet Earth. No other organism on land is able to travel that far, especially in the number of animals travelling at the same time. So, the Wildebeest live in the Serengeti, and they can have over a million individuals living together in a massive group along with other savannah animals that you find. What’s really strange about their migration though is that you don’t really see it happening. Essentially, you just see a few Wildebeest kind of sensing something in the air, or perhaps they’re not, perhaps they’re communicating with other Wildebeest. You’ll see a few starting to run and the rest of the group will follow along until you see this massive kind of swarm from Tanzania all the way to Kenya. Their migration trip can span over 1000km and it’s over two countries, Tanzania and Kenya, like I mentioned, and it’s really challenging, also tragic as well. First of all, many predators like lions, cheetahs, anything that eat Wildebeest are waiting for this migration to happen so that they can pin down some Wildebeest whilst they’re running. Especially because their predators know that they haven’t really eaten or had any rest, so it will be easier to take them down. Whilst they’re migrating, they also cross rivers, so they’re one of those organisms that don’t just travel through land. They also travel through rivers, water bodies, so again crocodiles will be waiting for them. So, it’s really a challenging migration, but they do it anyways. What’s tragic about this migration is that Nat Geo (National Geographic) states around 250,000 animals die because of this stampede, including Wildebeest themselves. Not just that, they are also battling starvation, thirst, and fatigue, they literally do not stop when they’re migrating. They keep on going, calves and adults alike. What’s also really challenging compared to birds, they don’t have the wind to carry them. They literally are using their legs to keep on going, which is of course much more tiring. As you can imagine, flying compared to running, two different things, is going to be more tiring for them as well, and they have this threat of predators. They have the threat of being literally stamped upon by fellow Wildebeest. They also kill so many animals along the way, but they do it every single year!

Yet, scientists don’t have a definite answer for the meaning behind this migration, but what they do know from satellite images is that they move in like a swarm. So, you kind of have the leaders in a sense at the front, and then the rest of the group coming behind. So like a swarm of bees. What scientists have concluded is that their structure of movement is definitely not random. You can kind of tell that there is perhaps some sort of leadership occurring, and there’s definitely some sort of communication occurring as well, so that they know exactly where to go, and they travel in that formation as well. So, it’s not a random movement. It’s not, you know, any random day that they’ll just start moving to wherever they need to get to. It’s not random and that’s what’s amazing about migrations. That’s why I wanted to make this episode. People perhaps think is just kind of random, they choose whenever to migrate, but it’s not. It’s coordinated. It’s structured, it’s non-random. There’s definitely a communication happening amongst the species that lets them know that, okay, we need to migrate now. 

So, scientists don’t exactly know why they do this, but they do have a few theories going around in the scientific community. First being that Wildebeest are really attracted to high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen, so they could just be doing this for grass, so food. Or it could just be an instinct, the migration could actually be coded in their DNA. Just basically like how escaping predation is coded in their DNA, migration could be coded in their DNA as well. I think any migrating organism, any migrating species, it most likely is coded into their DNA because they know exactly where and when to migrate and they know that they need to follow their groups. So perhaps it is really an inherent thing. But despite the high level of danger that they pose to themselves and to other organisms, it is really beneficial for sustaining their future generations. So definitely moving so that they can get to a safer place, that will definitely be a part of it. They’re really just doing this for their offspring and also for the sustainability of the entire group.

Moving to an even bigger organism, humpback whales are one of the largest animals to exist. The adults can weigh around 36,000kg and can reach up to 18 meters long and also live up to 48 years. And they also are migrating animals. So initially they feed in cold nutrient-rich waters in the summer, and these waters are really abundant of fish and krill. And then in the winter they migrate to warmer waters and that’s where they raise their calves and they’re able to escape predation by killer whales as well. Humpback whales actually live in very small pods, so have around about four to five whales living together and they migrate with them too. If you see any larger pods of whales, that’s probably a mating pod where males are fighting for the female, of course. These whales are massive, of course, but their migration journey is even bigger. They can travel up to 5,000 miles, so 8,000 kilometers each way, so that’s 16,000 kilometers in total every single year. So that makes them the longest, having the longest migration of any mammal to exist! For humpback whales in the Northern hemisphere, they migrate to Hawaii and in the Southern hemisphere they travel to Eastern Australia where they raise their calves and it’s warmer in the winter. Just like the Wildebeest and the godwit, during migration, even during calvinh and breeding seasons/periods they do not eat at all. They entirely rely on their blubber to keep them going. They do not stop to eat or rest essentially, so again, it’s really challenging for them. Also, traveling with their calves is a really risky thing as well, for any predators along the way or not just that, humans as well. People still carry out whaling (sighs), and if for example, their calves get stuck in nets, or perhaps calves ends up eating something along the way or get attached to a hook or anything that is human related, then it’s really, really challenging for them. They’re traveling such great distances and not eating anything, they’re literally not resting either, yet they have so many obstacles along the way. So again, it’s a really treacherous migration. 

There are countless other beautiful migrations are so important for the organisms and so wonderful for us to see and for us to literally get shocked at. How can organisms travel that far? Humans can’t do it, and these wonderful, beautiful organisms are able to do it. If I had so much time, I would actually go on and on about the amazing migrations that exist! I picked out these few because I wanted to kind of go from small little aphids all the way up to humpback whales and cover land and water as well. But you can definitely search up so many other migrations, it’s amazing! Perhaps on my social media pages I’ll just post a few more migrations I find amazing, you probably would find amazing, that you could know about or you might not know about! I think, yes, just celebrating the animal kingdom in general is just amazing, beautiful. That’s what makes this planet so beautiful! 

Looking at the broader picture, however. Despite these migrations being very unique to the organism, to species, them varying immensely in how they are structured, the time period, how long distances are etc. all of them follow five key characteristics. So, the first is that all of these migrations are prolonged movements that take animals out of familiar habitats into non-familiar habitats or habitats that have changed over time, by the time they get to them every single year. Especially now that humans have dominated the planet, so migrating animals probably will be coming to different, to completely new and changed locations when they do take those journeys when they’re migrating. 

The second characteristic is that these migrations are linear, so they’re not random in any way. They’re definitely coordinated. They don’t just happen all across the place, they follow a particular structure. Number three, each organism has specialized behavior for preparing for these migrations, and then of course, arriving to the destination. I saw some articles saying that some organisms actually reduce their organ size so they don’t rely on food as much water as much so they can get to the destination that they’re trying to get to without having any distractions or wasting time for eating and resting along the way. For migratory animals that I talked about today or any other animals that don’t rest, don’t stop to eat, they need to stock up on food of course. So, they need to change that behaviour, change the way that they eat before they’re migrating, so they have to specialize their behavior in a sense so they can get ready for the migration and not have to stop and waste time, waste energy.

Number four: demand for specialized allocation of energy is necessary for migratory species, both during migration and the end of the migrating period. So, they need to make sure that the energy that they have taken in before the migration, and then of course after, they’re allocating it correctly so they are able to withstand any challenges that come along the way when they are migrating or even when they’ve arrived. Because again, you know, there could be predators waiting for them when they arrive at their destination, we could be there, and that’s another risk for them. Or perhaps they realise that maybe this is not exactly the best place to be etc. so they need to make sure that the energy is allocated correctly in their bodies. Again, really complex, but these organisms, they know how to do it. 

And the last characteristic, number five, maintenance of unwavering focus. These animals need to be able to control themselves. They should not be tempted by any sort of distraction along the way, so they preserve their energy for their new destination. This is a characteristic I really wanted to talk about in this episode. As you know, I really like going into the psychological, philosophical side of things. That is just me! What’s really sad though, is that there’s not much study or there’s not much scientific research that’s gone into this. Of course, psychology and science do overlap, but many scientists kind of like to leave things scientific and they don’t really want to mix in the philosophy side of things. Which is why many of us, including scientists, have really just reduced these migrations to just phases of an organism’s life and the way they survive, the way they can feed in a sustainable way.

But I read an article by Nat Geo, again you can find it on my website, that really talked about how there must be something more than just survival in these migrations, because the way these animals are able to migrate without having unwavering focus, without getting distracted by anything, any pray that they see, any predator even. They’re just focusing on their destination and getting to it. That’s something that we don’t really associate with wild animals. We call them “wild” because they don’t have control, they don’t have that self-control, and when they’re not migrating, you probably see that more uncontrolled, untamed side of them, but as soon as they start migrating, when they get into the migration period, they become kind of like us. When we’re striving for something, when we’re working really hard to get to somewhere, we kind of cut off from any sort of distraction or any luxury in a sense, and they’re basically doing the same. They’re getting to their destination and they have that in their mind, and then making sure to not get distracted by anything and everything, and that is something that Nat Geo has really picked up on. You can’t just reduce these migrations to just ways of them to survive, there is definitely a bigger purpose in this. 

It’s just like a parent working long shifts, perhaps even going hungry, having sleepless nights, just so that they can get more money for their child’s future. Or a student that’s working really hard, that’s having all-nighters so that they can revise and can finish the assignment, just so they can get that good grade and progress in life academically, in a sense. Or not just academics, also any athletes, anyone in the arts side practicing for that performance or just staying up late to make sure that whatever you’re working towards is done to a great quality. Anyone really striving for something, bigger. We take those sacrifices. We stop ourselves from getting disturbed from any distractions, any temptations. We don’t go outside in the sun because we have work to do. So, it’s [migration] really, really mimicking how we seek purpose, how we identify purpose, what we prioritize in our lives, what we see as important. That is exactly what these migratory animals are doing. Sure, they might be migrating because they want more food, they want to secure the future of their offspring, they want to be safe, they want to get away from predation etc. But when they’re migrating, they have something that is literally very similar to us seeking purpose. Having that fixed goal essentially, and yes, their goal could just be to survive, but it’s still a goal. 

I think seeing it like that is great because again, it makes us relate to these organisms more and not just see them as animals that survive. Perhaps it’s also living in that survival. So, I think migrations really teach us a big thing about focusing on what you really want to achieve and cutting off from any sort of distraction to achieve it. That is something that we humans miserably struggle at doing. That’s what procrastination and all of that is all about, because we know we want to get to somewhere, but sometimes we just get so tired out and we forget where we need to get to and we let distractions take over us. But these animals, yeah sure they are basically doing this for surviving in a sense, and they have that great pressure on them, we don’t exactly have that pressure on us because if we, you know, don’t do the work today and do it tomorrow, we’re not going to die…hopefully! 

But I think, we all agree, if we just focused on what we really want to get to instead of indulging in other luxuries and other temptations and distractions etc., then we can get to our goals much quicker. I know it’s easier said than done, but let’s say if you tell yourself, okay, I’m going to start that assignment, or I’m going to start revising from tomorrow instead of today, then you’ve kind of wasted that day and the quicker you get stuff done, then the quicker you can relax and do other things that you really love doing.

To conclude, literally be more like migration animals. Animals just teach us so, so much. Every single species that is non-human teaches us so much about life. We kind of reduce them as just surviving, but in that survival, they’ve taught us so much about life, so much that we can apply and so much that we can understand from, and also remind ourselves about what it is to be really human.

OUTRO: Thank you for listening. I hope you’ve gained a little more insight to what it’s like to be mind-full of everything. If you haven’t already, hit the subscribe button on your favorite podcast app to be up to date with episode releases, and go over to my website mindfullofeverything.home.blog to get more information. This is Agrita with the Mind Full of Everything podcast, and I shall see you next time!

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