The Nature of a Humpback Whale
These whales are known for their acrobatic “breaching” displays and their long bodies, which contain the animal’s long flippers. They often swim upside down near the surface of the water, sometimes just under a boat to be petted. They are also known for singing songs, though they do not vocalize with lungs like humans. Instead, they drum with their flukes on the surface of the water. Let’s explore more of their nature.
Size and Growth
A mature whale is about 39 feet in length and weighs up to 40 tons. Its body is shaped like a rectangle with rounded corners, and its flippers have the strongest bones of all whales, allowing it to swim at high speeds. In fact, adult males can reach speeds of 45 mph when migrating; ascending from temperate waters in the tropics to their winter habitat in the remote North Pacific Ocean. Its body is so strong that it can propel itself above water in a “breach.” This whale has the largest brain of any species.
The diet of this whale consists primarily of fish, but it has been seen to eat mostly krill and plankton at times. While they often visit ice floes, they eat mainly the animals that float on the surface.
These whales are known for migrating over long distances between different areas. They travel from cool northern waters to tropical waters to give birth and mate. The mating ritual of the male humpback involves head butting the female; the male’s head can weigh as much as five tons. A female humpback only gives birth to a calf at most once every two years and can carry it for about a year before birth. The female whale can nurse its calf for over a year.
The humpback’s habitats include Sitka, Alaska and the Atlantic Ocean, along with a few other areas. Because their habitats are so large, they have been known to inhabit different temperatures of water.
The humpback’s life cycle begins with mating, which can occur between November and January. After a gestation period of only 10 months, the female gives birth to a calf. The female has to rest for a few months after it gives birth to its baby, so the young one stays near the adult while nursing. The calf nurses on its mother’s letdown of nutrient-rich milk, which is 50% fat until weaning. At this point, the calf will receive a small meal of fish. Their average lifespan can be between 60 and 80 years, and they have been known to live as long as 100 years. At birth, the humpback’s calf is about 10 feet long.
Breaching is a behavior exhibited by the whale that involves it propelling itself out of the water. They can be observed breaching in order to breathe, communicate with other humpbacks, and shake off parasites. A breach involves “lobtailing” where the whale arches its back and tail out of the water. The whale then slaps the tail on the water’s surface to make a big splash. The tail of a humpback can contain about 40% of its body length.
Humpbacks sing during the mating season. Humpbacks singing at the same time are said to be communicating, even if they do not know each other. Their songs are complex, with up to five distinct sounds that may include whistles or moans. These songs have been collectively referred to as “humpback music” and have been described as music by an alien race.
A humpback is an amazing animal that has many characteristics all its own. We have explored more of the nature of a humpback and its habitat. Contact the experts if you would like to see a humpback in Sitka, Alaska. We offer whale watching tours.