The reluctant champions: the animals that make the longest journeys

But, as the BBC Earth columnist has found out, there are travelers among them whose routes are capable of capturing our imagination.

We all know that moving from one point to another can be quite tedious. However, our experience pales in comparison to that of animals, which have to travel thousands of kilometers each year to find food, shelter or a mate.

In the background of their travels, Frodo's trip to Mordor may seem like an easy walk.

However, calculating the champion - the animal that covers the longest distances - is difficult for two reasons.

Firstly, some animals migrate in several stages, so you can get bogged down in debates about what exactly counts as "travel". Which result is more impressive - 2, 000 kilometers in two or 1, 500 kilometers in one? Hard to say.

Secondly, traveling on land cannot be compared to traveling by water or air. So, for example, animals that move by air or water are helped by wind and currents, while traveling on land can only be relied on on their own strength.

Therefore, the choice of the best traveler is largely determined by personal preference. There are a number of worthy contenders for this title. Let's start with the sea.

During seasonal migrations, whales cover great distances. Previously, gray whales were considered the record holders, but in 2007 humpback whales took the lead. Scientists estimate that they have swum at least 8, 299 km from Costa Rica to Antarctica. This is the longest mammalian migration to date.

Nevertheless, whales are outstripped by fish, or rather, great white sharks.

Scientists reported that one female named Nicole swam about 11, 100 km from the coast of South Africa to western Australia, and then - the same amount back, all in nine months.

An even more impressive result was demonstrated by a female leatherback turtle, whose journey was observed by researchers from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In search of places rich in food, she traveled 20, 500 km from her nesting site off the coast of Indonesia to the Pacific coast of the United States.

The numerous life forms that inhabit the ocean practice seasonal migration, and some of them travel huge distances daily.

These voyages usually take place at night, when plankton and fish rise from the depths closer to the surface to find food.

However, tracking the path of tiny sea creatures is not easy. Scientists hope the sounds these underwater travelers make will help them better understand this phenomenon.

What about land animals?

During the dry season and the rainy season, blue wildebeest inhabiting East Africa make massive migrations up to a total distance of 3, 000 km.

This result is impressive, however, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the leaders in land movement among animals are reindeer, which annually travel 4, 800 km across North America.

Nevertheless, the duration of these journeys is limited by natural barriers - for example, water. To have absolute freedom of movement, you must be able to fly.

From the point of view of beauty, the migration of butterflies of the Danaid monarch species stands out, which annually cover 4000 km from Mexico to Canada and back.

Another species of butterflies, the burdock, can travel from the deserts of North Africa to the Arctic Circle, flying 15, 000 km back and forth.

Dragonflies with the telling name "red tramp" are considered insects with the longest migration route, in all likelihood exceeding 18 thousand km. They cover this distance on their way from India to East Africa and back.

However, the life of these insects, like butterflies, is short-lived, and some of them may not endure

the whole trip. Instead, it is completed by the next generations.

At the same time, when it comes to the longest single journeys, birds are out of competition.

Even the smallest bird species are capable of incredible feats. For example, a 2016 study of the migration of common hummingbirds showed that during the autumn migration from the eastern United States to Central America, they cover about 2, 200 km.

Not bad for a bird weighing no more than a coin (5 grams)!

The wandering albatross - arguably the largest flying animal on Earth - can fly over 5, 500 km at a time.

These birds will easily surpass the achievement of Phileas Fogg (the hero of Jules Verne's novel "Around the World in 80 Days" - Translator's note): one of the albatrosses managed to circumnavigate the globe in just 46 days.

This ability is largely due to their ability to maintain a constant speed.

Through a process known as dynamic soaring, albatrosses use much less energy in flight, as they do not need to flap their wings to stay in the air. Therefore, a long distance is just a trifle for them.

A bird called the little bode cannot boast of such a hovering skill, but it is its movement that scientists are tracking with interest using satellite transmitters.

"In a year, the small Alaskan bodewith a total of about 30 thousand km, - explains biologist Lee Tibbets of the US Geological Survey. - His journey consists of three non-stop flights with a total duration of about 20 days."

"The bird flies from non-nesting sites in New Zealand or eastern Australia to anchorage sites in Asia, then from Asia to nesting sites in Alaska, and then from Alaska back to

New Zealand, says Tibbets. "The longest flight is from Alaska to New Zealand, and the record for this route is 11, 800 km."

Tibbets and her colleagues are studying the migration routes of the small bodews in view of fears for the future of these long-distance travelers.

“The strategy of migration of small bodews only succeeds if there is enough food in the campsites for such long flights. This is why scientists have recently been very concerned about the destruction and degradation of sites in Asia and the formation of marshes and coastal mudbanks around the world due to climate change ".

“We are all interested in whether long-distance migratory birds will be able to survive if the campsites where they used to feed before further flight and breeding change. Our first data indicate that birds do not adapt quickly enough, which negatively affects the level of survival and population size, "she warns.

The world's longest migrations are also due to similar feeding cycles and

reproduction. Two of these migrations dwarf all other air travel records.

The first is characteristic of the gray petrel, whose flight lines resemble giant eights.

This bird flies up to 64, 300 km per year between breeding grounds in New Zealand and feeding grounds in the far north, in Alaska.

Scientists suggested that the prevailing winds help the birds move.

In 2011, scientists attached transmitters to Arctic terns nesting in the Netherlands. Having collected data for a year, they were very surprised to find out where the terns flew for the winter.

The total average distance of migration from Europe to Antarctica was more than 48, 700 km.

The birds visited both hemispheres during the height of summer, and for this they had to travel an average of 90 thousand km outside the breeding season.

Richard Phillips of the British Antarctic Research Service in Cambridge is one of the scientists who made this amazing discovery.

He explains that seasonal changes in food supplies may be the reason for terns' migration so far.

"In short, the benefit justifies the cost, " he says. "[When they reach a certain location] they recharge and shed in preparation for the next breeding season."

However, one mystery remains. Not all Arctic terns fly to such distant lands - some of them prefer to stay closer to their pole.

“I wonder why terns nesting in the Netherlands migrated so far east, while birds from Greenland and Iceland flew much shorter distances, ” Phillips says.

"In this case, for example, the so-called founder effect could have worked: Arctic terns from the Netherlands are descendants of the first birds that settled in this area, which tended to migrate much further."

"In addition, they may choose to migrate eastward because the additional cost of long-distance flight is offset by the lack of competition from numerous birds from other populations wintering in the Weddell Sea."

However, it is not only birds that breed in the Netherlands that tend to travel long distances.

In June 2016, researchers from the University of Newcastle (UK) found that polar terns from the Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland migrated to Antarctica, setting a new migration record of 96 thousand km.

They have to travel this long way in order not to miss their place in the sun.