One of the most thrilling
behaviors 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.
A powerful action often
used 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.
Humpbacks have the longest pectoral fins of all
whales, 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
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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
Mothers and claves are always seen close together:
there is a powerful bond between them. Mothers often use their
pectoral 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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Although it may sound like groaning, screeching or
creaking to us, humpbacks can produce sounds that are classified as
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.
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.
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.
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.
MORE > WHALE MIGRATION
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