Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Awe-inspiring animal migrations that send people flocking

By Daisy Carrington, for CNN
October 9, 2013 -- Updated 1344 GMT (2144 HKT)
Millions of red crabs living on Australia's Christmas Island make their way to the sea to mate and, eventually, lay their eggs. Millions of red crabs living on Australia's Christmas Island make their way to the sea to mate and, eventually, lay their eggs.
HIDE CAPTION
A sideways view
Serengeti stampede
Aerial ballet
Sea turtle spotting
Pachyderm parade
Mating monarchs
Whale of a time
Crane your neck
Flaming flamingos
Run, sardine, run!
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Animals migrate to breed, feed, mate, and various other essentials to survival.
  • Sometimes, migrations attract predators, as with the sardine run in South Africa.
  • Some communities, like in Pacific Grove, California, impose fines on anyone disrupting the local fauna.
  • Locals on Christmas Island kickback with a beer during the annual crab migration.

(CNN) -- There is something magical about animal migrations. Perhaps it's the fact that as more of us move to cities (The U.N. predicts that nearly 70% of the global population will be urban dwellers by 2050), the sight of congregating herds, schools of fish, or flocks of birds is increasingly rare. Or maybe witnessing animals cross great distances to eat, mate, breed and, in essence, survive helps us to take stock of our own lives.

Whatever the reason, when animals come together, very often so do humans. Here's our guide to the animal migrations that bring people out in flocks.

Butterfly kingdom

Residents of Pacific Grove, California, take their butterflies very seriously. The area offers a warm micro-climate that attracts 20,000 monarch butterflies who travel up to 2,000 miles to winter in the region. In fact, the annual phenomenon has earned Pacific Grove the nickname "butterfly town".

"I always hear that the monarchs are coming before I ever see one. I get emails saying, 'I saw my first monarch of the season!' Everyone wants to be the one to herald their return," says Lori Mannel, executive director of the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. The season sees an influx of tourists as well. During the winter months, nearly 100,000 visitors come to witness the spectacle.

The last few years has seen a drastic decline in their population, a fact some credit with the degradation of milk weed -- the only flora monarchs can lay their eggs on. To help restore the population, many locals have started replanting the stuff, while the local government has instilled a $1,000 fine for disturbing a monarch.

Where: California
When: October - February

Read more: World's weirdest food festivals

Run, sardine, run

A school of sardines make their move during the annual sardine run in southern Africa. (Image: Junko Kimura/Getty Images)

The east coast of southern Africa bears witness to one of the greatest migrations of all time: the sardine run. From May through July, millions of sardines spawn in the Agulhad Bank and make their way north up the coast.

The migration also attracts predators, both of the human and animal variety. Each year, thousands of locals and tourists perch with massive fishing nets to catch the unwitting fish. Joining their ranks are sharks, dolphins and gannets, who also hover nearby in the hopes of snagging an easy dinner.

Where: South Africa
When: May - July

Sign of the wildebeest

While tourism isn't always a welcome phenomenon for environmentalists, there are some instances where conservation efforts are abetted by traveler interest. In the Serengeti, for instance, the tens of thousands of visitors that stream in July and August for the Great Migration (so called for the millions of wildebeests that trek from Tanzania to Kenya) actually help to ensure funding goes to conservation.

A heard of zebras quench their thirst en route to Kenya in their annual great migration across the Serengeti. (Image: MarcoLongari/AFP/Getty Images)

"You could argue that tourism is one of the major reasons this huge ecosystem still exists today," says Craig Sholley, the vice president of philanthropy and marketing at the African Wildlife Foundation.

I always hear that the Monarchs are coming before I ever see one.
Lori Mannel, Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History

At the peak of the migration, the banks of the Grumeti River are lined with hundreds of vehicles packed with environmental voyeurs all eager to glimpse the beasts make the life-threatening swim across the currents.

Where: Tanzania and Kenya
When: July - August

Read more: World's weirdest food festivals

Crab season

Christmas Island is perhaps best known for the swarm of red crabs that pour onto the roads and beaches every winter.

"It looks like someone came along and planted all these crabs overnight," explains Linda Cash, the marketing manager at Christmas Island Tourism.

When the crabs come out, the atmosphere becomes positively festive, notes Cash. The roads are closed to protect the journeying numbers, and the park builds special bridges to help them cross safely.

"People come down at night with their rakes, move the crabs off the road and share a beer," she says.

Where: Christmas Island
When: October - November

A whale of a time

A group of whale spotters hit the humpback whale jackpot whilst during the annual whale migration in South America. (Image: Rodrigo Buendia/AFP/Getty Images)

As it happens, humpback whales are a species constantly on the move. This is good news for tourists, who have a plethora of choice for where and when they'd like to engage in whale watching activities.

In the summer months, Colombia's Pacific Coast becomes a hotbed for roughly 3,000 of the journeying mammals, who use the warm waters as their mating grounds. Australia makes another popular spot to glimpse the majestic creatures, who hug the coast from July onwards. The whales can travel over 5,000 miles, and often, savvy businesses set up cruises and watch towers to help visitors get a peek.

Where: Colombia and Australia
When: July - October (Colombia), June - November (Australia)

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 2, 2013 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
No matter the time of year, or place, a bounty of vegetables is often all it takes to get people singing, dancing, cow racing -- even parading around giant phalluses.
November 1, 2013 -- Updated 1806 GMT (0206 HKT)
Fireworks boom, bulbs flash, and flames flicker as tens of millions of people across the globe celebrate the beginning of the Festival of Lights.
October 31, 2013 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
halloween costume no eyes
Still think Halloween is just for the kids? You won't -- not when you've seen CNN's gut-twisting, down-right disgusting mob of morbid maniacs.
November 1, 2013 -- Updated 0942 GMT (1742 HKT)
Our list of doomed sites include a haunted school, political prisons and an abandoned hospital. No...we wouldn't go in there either!
October 31, 2013 -- Updated 1046 GMT (1846 HKT)
Catch the best Halloween costumes from tinseltown featuring Heidi Klum, Jimmy Kimmel, Ellen DeGeneres, Miley Cyrus and all their A-list friends.
October 21, 2013 -- Updated 1718 GMT (0118 HKT)
There are still many places in the world that treat magic as serious business. Check out our guide to the world's witchiest hotspots.
October 14, 2013 -- Updated 1407 GMT (2207 HKT)
The best photos of the eighth and annual gathering of geeks in the city that never sleeps. The sold out event allowed fans to mingle with stars.
October 9, 2013 -- Updated 1344 GMT (2144 HKT)
When animals come together en masse, very often so do humans. Here's our guide to the animal migrations that bring people out in flocks.
September 20, 2013 -- Updated 0626 GMT (1426 HKT)
Surviving the all-day drinking sessions of highly potent wheat beer at the (in)famous Oktoberfest in Munich is marathon, not a sprint.
September 13, 2013 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
For one weekend in September more than 155 million people in six neighboring countries across Central America pull out all the stops to honor the birth of their nations.
August 28, 2013 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Some hobbies take genuine talent, others just don't, but the real skill is turning your weird past-time into an international event.
August 9, 2013 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
For Muslims, Eid al-Fitr is one of the most festive periods in the religion's calendar. We asked you to send us your best Eid photos, here are your best shots.
August 8, 2013 -- Updated 1046 GMT (1846 HKT)
Award-winning British chef Aktar Islam shares his best Eid food memories. Find out what culinary delights are on his table.
August 20, 2013 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
Humans have a strange relationship with food. This seems to be a global truth that is perhaps best evidenced by the array of unusual food festivals the world over.
July 2, 2013 -- Updated 1042 GMT (1842 HKT)
Each year, proponents of the healing powers of mud (and those that just like to getting down in the dirt) descend on Daecheon Beach in South Korea for the annual Boryeong Mud Festival. Last year, 2.6 million people participated, many diving in to the mud marathon, mud wrestling, and several other mud-related activities on offer.
There is something innately messy about summer. That must be why some of the world's filthiest festivals bide their time until the warmer months.
August 9, 2013 -- Updated 0914 GMT (1714 HKT)
From Bastille Day and 4th July to Chinese New Year and Disney Land, your shots of the world's greatest fireworks.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
We asked you to send us your best solstice photos. From skinny dipping, fire jumping and dancing like a rocket -- here are your best shots.
June 17, 2013 -- Updated 0953 GMT (1753 HKT)
Linked to fertility -- both of the vegetal and human variety -- the solstice has spawned celebrations meant to fan the flames of love and lust.
June 13, 2013 -- Updated 1043 GMT (1843 HKT)
Why did the midsummer maypole cause offense and who celebrates midsummer by running naked through the streets?
December 20, 2012 -- Updated 1807 GMT (0207 HKT)
For some it was an exhilarating holiday to an exotic place, finding new love or conquering their greatest fear. For others, it was witnessing an historic event.
December 17, 2012 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
The champagne is on ice, the fireworks are exploding overhead -- but isn't your New Year's Eve party a bit, well, last year?
December 14, 2012 -- Updated 0354 GMT (1154 HKT)
Edinburgh is cast aglow at its annual New Year's Eve (Hogmanay) festivities with a torchlight procession involving more than 25,000 locals
For many people, New Year's Eve can be disappointing -- there's so much hype in the lead-up to the event, it often falls short of the mark.
December 12, 2012 -- Updated 0145 GMT (0945 HKT)
If your Christmas is too often one of tacky decorations, over-cooked turkey and bitter family feuds, now may be the time to plan yourself a Yuletide getaway.
December 24, 2012 -- Updated 1036 GMT (1836 HKT)
Jen Best from Liberty, Misouri, snapped this adorable picture of her six month old nephew, Grayson, playing with fairy lights after seeing the idea on Pintrest.
Christmas is synonymous with decorations, markets and extravagant quantities of food. But traditions differ greatly depending on where you are in the world.
December 23, 2012 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
For something intended to bring pleasure to loved ones, Christmas shopping in the Internet age can be a peculiarly joyless and atomized activity.
December 7, 2012 -- Updated 2031 GMT (0431 HKT)
For some, Hanukkah is "the potato pancake holiday" -- a holiday that takes the mundane potato and gives it a massive makeover.
How much do you know about Christmas traditions around the world? Find out with our quiz.
November 26, 2013 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
The biennale will attract artists such as Sudarshan Shetty, whose previous works have included this aluminium and wood sculpture known as
The port-city of Kochi, on India's west coast, isn't known for its arts scene but that will change as it's first arts bienale.
ADVERTISEMENT