Five Facts You Didn’t Know About Humpback Whales
Each year, between the months of June and November, approximately 35,000 humpback whales make the mammoth 5000-kilometre migration north from the cool waters of Antarctica to the warm waters of Tropical North Queensland. Humpback whales are some of the most curious and inquisitive out of all marine mammals easily identified by the distinctive hump on their back, behind their dorsal fin, but did you know these facts?
1. They Can Bubble Feed
Humpback whales have a unique way of feeding. They are referred to as ‘baleen whales’, essentially meaning they have no teeth. Instead, their mouth is made up of baleen plates. A humpback whales diet is primarily made up of krill and small schooling fish. They trap their prey with a large open-mouth and then filter out the seawater, through these baleen plates. They also have a special trick up their sleeve. This involves an individual or a pod of whales releasing a large air bubble-ring deep underwater. As the bubble-ring rises to the surface it traps fish and the humpbacks then swim to the surface in the middle of the ring with their mouth open. This is referred to as ‘bubble feeding’.
2. They Can Sleep While Swimming
Have you ever stopped to think about how a whale sleeps? Every time you may have ‘watched’ them they were likely to be swimming! Whales have the unique ability to be in a restful state while swimming. They may even swim alongside another whale, while both ‘asleep’. When a humpback calf is born, it is important while it is young to continue swimming as it builds up its own blubber. A whales’ blubber serves several purposes, primarily as fat storage, as well as assisting in the whales’ ability to manage its own buoyancy. The mother can keep a very young calf in her slipstream while she swims, referred to as echelon swimming, so the calf can eat, sleep and rest.
3. They Have One Of The Longest Migration Journeys Of Any Mammal On Earth
Humpback Whales generally migrate approximately 5000kms — this happens to be one of the longest migration patterns of any mammal on earth. The season for us in Newcastle lasts from June to November each year, but for the individual whale, it takes them around three months. It is a journey of epic proportions, whereby the adult humpback whales are effectively ‘fasting’. In the East Australian population there are 30,000–35,000 individuals, with that number currently growing between 10–14% each year.
4. Only Male Humpback Whales Sing
We all know that familiar whale song, especially from the movie Nemo, but did you know that only male humpback whales sing? Male humpback whales are known for their long and complex songs which can last for hours. A humpback whale’s song can be heard hundreds of kilometres away and like different languages, each population has a different song. It is believed that male humpback whales sing to communicate, as well as potentially attracting a mate.
5. They Were Nearly Extinct
In the 1960s Humpback whales were heavily hunted due to the value of their meat and other products with whaling stations in Australia and New Zealand believed to have killed over 40,000 humpback whales. This hunting had a catastrophic effect on humpback whale numbers and it is believed that at their lowest point only a few hundred humpback whales where left. Since humpback whaling ceased in 1963, humpback whale numbers in Australia have been steadily increasing largely due to conservation and education efforts and in 1965 humpback whales became protected worldwide, after a significant decrease in global numbers.
To join CoastXP on an Encounter Tour looking at these majestic animals up close, click here.