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Details about: Humpback Whales

The_Humpback_Whales_on_CanadianWildlife.comThe Humpback Whales

Humpback Whales are one of the most sought after tourist sights in Alaska and the Canadian waters along the BC coast.

Although growing to enormous sizes, Humpback whales are relatively gentle and docile creatures. Humpback Whales average 40 - 52 ft (12 - 16 m) in length, weigh approx 79,000 lb (36,000 kg) and survive by eating massive amounts of krill, plankton and small schooling fish. The largest recorded Humpback specimen measured 62 ft (19 m) long, and had pectoral fins 20 ft (6 m) long.
Photos of Humpback Whales are courtesy of copyright owner TheMadDogs.com
The Humpback Whale is a rorqual whale that also includes other baleen whales. Rorqual whales have a "pleated" style throat that can expand to several times the original volume when a whale takes a (huge!) mouthful of saltwater and prey-food (consisting of krill, small fish and plankton). Using its tongue, the saltwater is strained out through the baleen leaving the whale with a mouthful of tasty treats.

A baleen, or baleen plate, is a plate of thick structures made of keratin (the same material as hair and nails) hanging down from the upper jaw. With a mouth and throat full of water & food, they push the water out through the baleen, using it like a strainer to let the water out and keep the food inside
Photos of Humpback Whales are courtesy of copyright owner TheMadDogs.com
A Humpback Whale can be identified by a short dorsal fin, large pectoral fins (flippers) and groups of knobblies on their faces. Each individual Humpback Whale can be further identified by the black & white markings on the underside of the tail fin & pectoral fins. Like fingerprints, the coloration and patterns are unique to each whale and remain stable with little variance, throughout the whales life.

One outstanding feature of the Humpback Whale is the large pectoral fins. Even when first classified, it was these large pectoral fins that categorized the Humpback Whale in its own genus grouping called "Megaptera" meaning "huge-wings".
Photos of Humpback Whales are courtesy of copyright owner TheMadDogs.com
The Humpback Whale received it's name based on the motion of it's body as it surfaces and dives back under water, arching its back in a hump. During a diving sequence, a Humpback Whale surfaces, breathes (making a "V" shaped blow up to 10 ft (3 m) high) through its pair of blow holes, arches its back and flips its tail out of the water on the way down. A Humpbacks' tail can account for up to 1/3 of the body length and may measure up to 12' (4 m) wide on large animals.

Once underwater a Humpback Whale may stay submerged for up to 30 minutes, but usually average only 15 minutes, and may dive down 500 - 700 ft (150 - 210 m).

The "knobblies" on a Humpback Whales head and around its jaw are an evolved form of a hair follicle called a "tubercle". Each tubercle has a bristly “hair” growing out of it. It is in these areas that barnacles attach themselves, spending their lives getting a free ride and cruising the oceans.
Photos of Humpback Whales are courtesy of copyright owner TheMadDogs.com
4 separate groups of Humpback groups have been identified, with 3 of those being migratory. Of the migratory Humpback Whale groups, one group lives in the Pacific Ocean, one in the northern Atlantic and the third travels the southern waters. It is the Humpback Whales of the Indian Ocean are the only group that does not migrate to cooler feeding waters.

Humpback Whales seen in the Pacific Northwest, including Alaska, and the BC coast in Canada make incredible migratory journeys every year. After spending an entire summer in the Pacific Northwest gorging themselves in the nutrient rich waters, they begin a migration of up to 8,000 mile (12,800 km). Alternating locations for the migration include the warm tropical waters of Hawaii and Mexico.

While spending the winter in the warm tropical waters, pregnant Humpback Whales give birth to giant baby Humpbacks. Measuring as long as their mothers head, an average of 15 ft (4.5 m), they weigh between 2,000 - 4,000 lbs (900 - 1800 kg) and may consume up to 100 lbs (45 kg) of milk per day. The calves stay with the mother as they migration takes them back to the nutrient rich northern waters. Feeding exclusively on mothers' milk for the first six months of its life, the calf spends the next 6 months on a mixture of mothers’ milk and solid food.
Photos of Humpback Whales are courtesy of copyright owner TheMadDogs.com
While in the northern waters of Alaska and Canada, Humpback Whales consume tremendous amounts of food. They generally feed twice a day and may consume up to 4,500 lbs (2,000 kg) of seafood everyday. Approximately 120 days are spent in the northern waters before starting the migration to warm waters all over again.

Once in the warm tropical waters whales do not eat but rely on their fat deposits to carry them over. After a winter of courtship and mating, during which time the males "sing" long eerie sounding songs that may last days at a time, spring signals the start of the migration to the cooler northern waters. Glacier Bay is a summer home to many humpback whales as many of the same whales have been recognized year after year.

Humpback Whales use various feeding techniques to eat krill, plankton & small schooling fish such as herring, capelin. Bubble feeding - blowing declining spiral rings to coral prey closer together to be swallowed as once, is a common technique. While they generally bubble-feed as a group, it has been known to be done by a single animal as well.

Humpback Whales are a popular attraction for Whale Watching tours as they are very curious and acrobatic animals. A favorite attraction is the display of great strength, a full-grown humpback will breach (launch themselves almost clear out of the water) and splash down with a great explosion of water.

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