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The Humpback whales, George and Gracie, were brought back to the future in order to save earth and repopulate the species. How was this accomplished?

While Humpback whales have a life expectancy of 45-50 years, George and Gracie have already used up about half of that life span.

Even considering that Gracie is pregnant (she told Spock), they have a gestation period of 12 months. Humpback calves nurse for approximately six months then mix nursing and independent feeding for possibly six months more. Offspring reach sexual maturity at 6-10 years of age so it would be another decade before another 'mature' whale would even be available. It's difficult to imagine creating a viable population from only two mature adults.

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A common number for a viable gene pool for a human colony is 160 as a minimum. However, with the genetic techniques and cloning capability, I would gather they could repopulate the oceans with two as a starting point. – JohnP May 8 '14 at 22:28
I'm still trying to figure out why they needed transparent aluminum. Couldn't they have just used ... aluminum? Or pretty much anything else? Who needs to see the whales while they travel back in time? – Doug McClean May 9 '14 at 2:47
@DougMcClean:… – Micah May 9 '14 at 3:14
up vote 17 down vote accepted

The humpbacks were not brought back to repopulate the species. The main reason they wanted the whales was to answer the probe that was close to Earth and destroying it.

In the movie, a giant probe was moving through space and transmitting a signal which was disabling power to starships as it moved through space. When it reached Earth, the signal had disabled all the power systems on Earth and was causing planetary storms. Spock deciphers that the signal was the call of a humpback whale, so they had to go back in time to get humpbacks to answer the signal.

As far as canon sources, I don't remember them explaining in the movie just how two whales will be able to repopulate a species unless they use futuristic methods like cloning, genetic manipulation, etc.

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Answering the probe was the primary goal, but Kirk specifically told Gillian Taylor that they intended to repopulate the species. I don't think he was deliberately lying (at the very moment when he was telling her for the first time that he was from the future), but perhaps he hadn't thought things through. And as JohnP's comment suggests, with 23rd century technology they probably could repopulate the species starting with just 2 whales. – Keith Thompson May 9 '14 at 0:29
Not re-populating the species would just lead to the probe returning to look for them again. – James Sheridan May 9 '14 at 2:02
In a way Kirk was lying; he didn't tell her about the Yodel after all. It's a tossup whether a 20th Century biologist would be more likely to believe that in the future angry Yodelers will destroy Earth if they don't hear any whalesong or that two whales is enough to repopulate a species. – Kyle Jones May 9 '14 at 2:35
Good answer. Answering the probe was the first concern when it comes to transporting the whales to the future. Repopulation was indeed a secondary issue. – Morgan Feb 12 at 19:17

If you'll accept the Vonda McIntyre novelization as a source, it goes into some detail about this.

Apparently they have frozen humpback tissue on hand that they could clone. However, 1) it won't help with the immediate problem, because a cloned whale won't know any of the songs the probe is looking for, and 2) humpbacks are big-brained enough that they have to learn a lot of stuff from their parents or they won't survive, which is why nobody tried to reintroduce them before.

At the end of the book, the combination of clones with genuine, culturally literate, 20th-century whales is supposed to suffice to repopulate the species, though neither would be enough on their own.

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I would have to look at that novel. I'm generally skeptical about much of the EU, especially if it goes beyond simply filling in some plot holes and goes hog wild at creating a whole new universe out of whole-cloth. That goes far beyond my scope interest or time to follow the convolutions or creations. – Morgan May 18 '14 at 3:26

You know, now that they did it once, they could just go back in time again and get some more whales. If they go back far enough, they can even avoid having to deal with whale hunters at all.

Normally they wouldn't bother doing any such thing (Temporal Prime Directive), but if the race that sent the probe made it an issue, well....

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They nearly all died the first time. I doubt that they'd want to try it again. – Valorum May 26 at 17:32

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