By Zamin Syed
Photo by Venessa Mignon
Today, I’m going to talk to you about my favourite species of whales: Humpback Whales
Whales or Cetaceans are marine mammals, they are split into two general types, “Odontocetes” which include the toothed whales and dolphins and “Mysticeti” which are the Baleen Whales. Humpback Whales are baleen whales that range in size from around 50-62 ft, Females are usually larger than Males! They live in seas and oceans around the world and carry long migrations of about 25,000 km each year from where they feed in polar waters in the summer to waters around the equator in the winter to breed. They have a life span that ranges from 45 to about a 100 years! Their diet consists of krill, small fish like herrings/sardines and plankton. Humpback Whales also have different techniques to trap fish such as Bubble net feeding. They gulp enormous mouthfuls of their prey and seawater. Using their baleen plates, they then filter out the water. Due to their size humpback whales need to eat a lot of prey to survive. In fact, an adult humpback whale can consume up to 1360kg of food each day! Please watch this video of humpbacks performing bubble net feeding off the coast of Alaska.
Photo by Hawaii Wildlife Fund
Humpback whales are quite easy to identify because of their long pectoral fin, the prominent hump and their Tail Fluke. As Humpback whales are mammals and not fish, they breathe air when they come to the surface of the water through their blow holes. Humpbacks are considered a whale watchers favourite species because they tend to dwell on the surface of the water for long periods of time and have distinctive behaviour such as breaching, and fin-slapping. I had the opportunity to go whale watching along with my class in the Bay of Fundy, just off Brier Island, NS and got to witness these beautiful animals.
Here’s a picture we took of a male humpback whale breaching
Other than their natural beauty itself, my favourite characteristic of Humpback whales are their “vocalizations” that range from low whistles to high pitched squeals and rumbling. Whales have no vocal cords like us humans, so they produce sound through a structure in their throat. Although both male and females can vocalize, males are the ones that produce complex songs which travel long distances through the ocean. Studies have shown that males may sing continuously for more than 24 hours. Another interesting fact is that whales within a large area, sing a single song. For example, all North Atlantic humpback whales sing the same song and North Pacific whales sing a different song. Scientists still don’t know the exact purpose of these whale songs, but they think it is to attract females or communicate with other males. Click here to hear a beautiful male humpback whale song.