Monday, July 27, 2020

Wildlife of the Week - Humpback Whales

©Five Star Whale Watching/Andrew Lees. A magnificent Humpback Whale breaches high out of the surface of the Salish Sea; these animals may weight between 30-40 tons.

Today we have a very exciting feature for our Wildlife of the Week; we have been eager to highlight this major species! Some of you may be able to discern the species from the photo already. This animal has become a more frequent visitor to the Salish Sea in the past few decades, and its population is on a steady recovery. Look at that breach! Have you ever seen a whale breach before?

Weighing between 30-40 tons, the Humpback Whale is a magnificent leviathan of the Salish Sea, cherished by many. Though all species are important to the ecosystem and food web dynamics, the Humpback admittedly has a special place in our hearts at Five Star! What do you know about Humpback Whales? Share in the comments below!

The Humpback is a large Baleen whale, belonging to the Rorqual family.  This massive creature measures as an astonishing length of 16-18m, or 40-60 feet. The Humpback is one of the largest whales in the world! 

The Humpback Whale has a small, triangular dorsal fin roughly ⅔ the way down its back, large pectoral flippers (about ⅓ of body length) as well as tubercles and barnacles that stud the rostrum of the animal. The Humpback Whale is typically a dark grey or black colour with a white belly and white sides (extent on sides often depends on population). 

Humpback Whales are found in every ocean of the world and are seasonal migrators. They typically spend spring, summer (and even fall/ early winter) months in northern regions (temperate or polar) to feed. The species will migrate to tropical, warm and shallow areas to breed and calve, nursing their young until they are strong enough for the long journey. 

Some individuals will even migrate over 8,000km (5,000 miles) between their grounds. Several distinct populations of Humpbacks have been distinguished; the Mexican, Central America, Hawaii and the Western North Pacific populations are officially recognized in the North Pacific, whereas several others exist in the North Atlantic and Southern Hemisphere. 

Humpback Whales feed on a variety of small prey species. As Baleen whales, they do not have teeth and utilize baleen plates attached to their jaw; baleen is a hair-like, keratin composed substance capable of acting like a massive sieve, to separate prey from a mouthful of seawater. The seawater is expelled from the baleen, trapping the small creatures inside. These include schooling fishes such as Pacific herring, Pacific sardines, Sandlance, Eulachon and crustaceans, like krill. 

The Humpback Whale has a large mouth and throat, the latter equipped with “ventral pleats” to help expansion when gulping huge volumes of seawater. 

The Humpback Whale nearly went extinct in the height of commercial whaling in the 1900’s, but the population has rebounded extremely well. 

We have witnessed several mothers bringing their calves into the Salish Sea to feed. Typically, a mother will have a calf every 2-4 years, each calf capable of measuring 10-15 feet at birth.

Who thinks they might be able to answer some Humpback Whale trivia? Try it out if you’re feeling knowledgeable about this creature! 

  1. True or False? Humpback calves nurse for up to 3 years. (ANS: FALSE. Calves nurse for roughly 1 year). 
  2. What is approximately the weight of a newborn Humpback Whale? (ANS: Up to a ton). 
  3. Is it true that the Latin name for the Humpback Whale is derived from the shape of its tail? (ANS: No. The scientific Latin name refers to the large pectoral flippers of the Humpback Whale, and roughly translates to “big-winged whale”). 

BONUS CHALLENGE: Humpback Whales are known for their beautiful, complicated and haunting ____. When huge numbers of people first heard these publicized on an album in the 1970’s known as ______, it drew attention and awareness to the creatures, promoting waves of conservation initiatives. 


Album: Songs of the Humpback Whale produced by Dr . Roger Payne. 

These songs are believed to be used for communication and mating purposes. 

To learn more, check out some of our References below!

“Humpback Whale.” 2018. American Cetacean Society.

“Humpback whale.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society.

“Humpback Whale.” National Marine MammaL Laboratory, Alaska Fisheries Science Centre (NOAA Fisheries).

“Humpback Whale.” NOAA Fisheries. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. U.S. Department of Commerce.,areas%20of%20Okinawa%2C%20Japan%2C%20and%20the…%20More%20

O’Dell, Cary. 2010. “Songs of the Humpback Whale.” The National Registry.

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