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Home > Marine Life > Whales > Humpback Whale Behavior

Whale Behavior & Anatomy

   Breaching                  Courting          Feeding               
   Tail Slapping             Nurturing         Sleeping
   Pectoral Slapping     Singing            Migrating

> Breaching
One of the most thrilling Humpback whale breach - photo by Suzanne Canjabehaviors to observe is the breach. With just a few strokes of their flukes, humpbacks can gain enough momentum to hurl their 30 ton, 45 foot bodies into the air, then crash back down with a thunderous splash! Theories abound as to why whales breach, from acoustic signaling to removal of barnacles to joyous play.

> Tail Slapping
A powerful action often Humpback whale tail slap - photo by Suzanne Canjaused in aggressive encounters, the tail slap occurs when the whale's flukes are lifted clear out of the water and then brought down on the surface with a great resounding "crack!" Whales have been seen tail slapping repeatedly, more than 40 times! The width of their flukes can reach 15 feet and the underside is a distinctive as our own fingerprints.

> Pectoral Slapping
Humpbacks have the longest pectoral fins of all Humpback whale pectoral slap - photo by Suzanne Canjawhales, stretching up to 15 feet in length. These fins may be used to help maneuver the whale or signaling. A pectoral slap is created when a whale rolls on its side, raises its pectoral fin out of the water and forcefully slaps in down. At times a whale will turn completely on its back and slap both fins on the waters surface.

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> Courting
Dynamic displays of humpbacks performing courtship behaviors can be seen in the waters off the Hawaiian Islands. Males engage in competitive activities with each other for access to receptive females. Sometimes whales lunge aggressively at each other trying to displace one another resulting in superficial abrasions.

> Nurturing
Mothers and claves are always seen close together: there is a powerful bond between them. Mothers often use their Humpback whale & calf underwater - photo by Hannah Bernardpectoral fins to caress and cradle their young and have been seen assisting their babies to the surface. Newborns are 12 to 15 feet long and can weigh 2 tons. Calves typically nurse for 8 to 12 months and can consume 80 gallons in a day! They can double their size in one year.

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> Singing
Although it may sound like groaning, screeching or creaking to us, humpbacks can produce sounds that are classified as true songs.

Songs are produced on the breeding grounds, and to date, singers observed have been identified as males. Researchers speculate that singing may play a role in attracting a mate, establishing a territory, or advertising availability.

Humpbacks in Hawai'i all sing virtually the same song. Their song is identical to that of the humpbacks breeding off the coasts of Mexico and Japan. The song changes every year, and it changes across the Pacific basin at virtually the same time! The song of the humpback is a mystery and a marvel: its purpose may be more complex than we can imagine.

> Feeding
The humpbacks don't eat during their six months in the Hawaiian Islands. Hawai'i doesn't offer their food, krill and herring. But, since the whales spent the winter in the north, doing nothing but eating, they carry their summer food supply in their fat.

> Sleeping
Humpbacks sleep with half their brain at a time. Then they switch sides, and put the other half to sleep. The side that remains awake acts as a sentinel to protect the whale from threats, including sharks and boats.

> Migrating
Humpbacks take about 39 days to travel the 3,200 miles from Alaska. They cruise an estimated 3 to 4 miles per hour, and are believed to swim 24 hours a day.

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Related Links
 > Whale Migration

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