The humpback whale is a species of baleen whale distinguished by the small hump near its dorsal fin. It boasts its presence in all the oceans of the world and has quite a reputation for being very migratory.
This article discusses 10 interesting humpback whale facts, some of which you may be finding out for the very first time.
1. Humpback Whales Migrate The Farthest
One of the most interesting facts about humpback whales is their ability to migrate as far as 16,000 miles in a year. That’s the most for any extant creature in the animal kingdom. They are known for leaving the polar climates in the summer for the tropical climate in the winter, where they mostly just mate and live off their fast reserves. Talk about a vacation!
2. Humpback Whales Sing Songs
Humpback whales are also known for their ability to sing songs. The singing is typically done by the males, especially during the winter breeding season. The songs are part of an extended series of calls shared by male humpback whales living within 3,000 miles of one another. A humpback whale song lasts between 10-20 minutes, after which it becomes a repetitive anthem lasting hours.
Research revealed that the songs could change after a while. and all the members of the original humpback whale choir would switch to the new song. Isn’t that fascinating? Even more fascinating is another study that revealed humpback whales in the Oceania region would often arrange a meet at the Kermadec Islands, where they would share their songs.
3. Scientists Do Not Know Exactly Why Humpback Whales Sing
While most experts believe that singing is part of a mate selection process, scientists still can’t place a finger on the exact reason why humpback whales sing. Some scientists believe that the songs are more than just mating calls; they are also used as a form of identity and a way of marking ocean territory. However, all of these are just hypotheses, nothing concrete just yet.
4. Humpback Whales Do Not Have Teeth
A cursory look at a humpback whale may lead you to believe it has teeth. However, humpback whales do not. The thing they have that resembles teeth is called baleen plates. The baleen plates look like sieves, and they hang on each side of their jaws.
What purpose do these plates serve? You might ask. Baleen plates are the reason why humpback whales feed by letting in massive amounts of seawater, which is then sieved through the plates, leaving just their prey. Very weird way to eat, right?
That explains why, for a whale that big, its diet consists of small creatures like krills, planktons, sardines, and mackerel, amongst others. Here’s where it gets mind-blowing: humpbacks eat between 3,000-5,000 pounds of food every day, which means they eat incredible amounts of these small creatures to satisfy their daily dietary needs. Incredible stuff!
5. Humpback Whales Hunt As A Team
While it’s true that humpback whales characteristically travel solo, they sometimes team up to hunt. They have a hunting strategy known as “bubble-netting,” in which they blow bubbles around their prey, causing the fish to compress together. Once they move up the surface, the humpbacks would then open their mouths and try to swallow as much as they can in one go. Other times, they would add some scary noises into the mix to scare their prey into moving to the surface. Some splendid teamwork there, huh?
6. Humpback Whales Can Live Up To 80 Years
Remember when we mentioned that humpback whales do not actually have teeth? Well, the absence of teeth has made it difficult for scientists to actually determine their lifespan accurately. However, most scientists believe they live between 80-90 years which is pretty long, even for us humans.
7. Humpback Whales Stay Pregnant For 11 Months
Female humpback whales give birth every 2-3 years, after 11 months of gestation. The baby humpback whales are known as calves, and they come out with a length of 13-16 feet. They also weigh about 1-2 tons. Their 11-month gestation period makes more sense when you consider these incredible sizes.
The calves stay under the care and watch of their mothers for about a year before forging their own paths. While they often have no special bonds with their mothers past the weaning periods, baby humpback whales have been observed to stay in the same feeding grounds as their mothers.
8. Humpback Whales Almost Went Extinct
Humpback whales are currently listed as “least concern,” the best possible rating on the IUCN list. However, that hasn’t always been the case. The early to mid-20th century witnessed historic declines in the humpback whale population, and by the 1980s, the species had almost become extinct.
Thanks to the global ban on commercial whaling in 1985, we now have as many as 150,000 humpback whales today and about 16 different groups. So, the humpback whale population is back to being solid, although there are still major threats like ship collisions and occasional fishing gear entanglements.
9. Humpback Whales Have Unique Tail Patterns
Most humpback whales either have black or gray bodies and of course, the hump on their backs makes them recognizable. However, the white patterns on their pectoral fins, bellies, and tails are individually unique. Just like human fingerprints, scientists began to use these patterns to identify individual whales in the 1970s.
10. Not All Humpback Whales Migrate
Whales have arguably the most intense migratory trait of all animals in the animal kingdom. However, certain population groups of humpback whales do not migrate. This group lives in the Arabian Sea, and they are the smallest as well as the most genetically isolated humpback whales.
Scientists say they have remained that way for about 70,000 years, and they stick to Arabian waters in Yemen, India, Oman, and Sri Lanka, amongst others.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Claude Huot/Shutterstock.com
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.