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The Humpback Whale

August, 2021 | Wildlife

An encounter with a Humpback Whale is always a top experience for our guests, with these impressively huge animals curiously approaching our Zodiac boats and often breaching and ‘putting on a show’ for everyone to enjoy.

Let’s learn more about these wonderful creatures.

Identification Please
  • Humpback Whales are the most abundant baleen whale found in the waters of Antarctica. They migrate to Antarctica in the summer months to feed on krill. 
  • These whales are easy to spot as they have a small dorsal fin, distinct hump, extraordinarily long pectoral fins, and black-and-white patterns on their tails (called ‘flukes’). 
  • Humpback Whales have very distinctive markings on their flukes, and when their tails emerge from the water before a dive you can get a good look at each individual pattern. These markings are used by whale researchers to identify each whale.
  • The head and lower jaw of Humpback Whales are covered with knobs called tubercles, which are hair follicles.
  • Instead of teeth, they have ‘baleen plates’ and will have anywhere between 270 and 400 darkly colored plates on each side of their mouth.
  • Humpback Whales grow to about 15 metres, and 40 tonnes in weight. The females are slightly larger than males.
  • Males produce complex songs that can last 10 to 20 minutes, sometimes repeating them for hours at a time. All the males in a group will produce the same song, which is different each season. They sing to attract females but also use them between males to establish dominance.

 

Let’s Eat!
  • They will strike shoals of fish with their flippers or flukes, disabling them and allowing them to have their fill.
  • Humpback Whales will coordinate feeding and herd prey using a technique called “bubble netting”. One or two whales dive down below a shoal or swarm of prey and then swim back slowly toward the surface in a spiral. As they swim, they slowly blow bubbles that rise in a circle and drive the prey in a panic towards the centre of the circle. The whales then charge up through the middle with their mouths open, getting a more concentrated mouthful of food.
  • They are also known to synchronize their lunges at schools of fish or invertebrates by lining up side by side. While one lunges to disorient the fish, as they dash out of the way they will swim directly into the path of another.
  • A Humpback Whale can eat up to 3,000 pounds of food per day.

 

The Greatest Show
  • Want to see a Humpback Whale? Head out on a February or March trip, when whales are most frequently seen.
  • If you’re interested in a closer encounter, be sure to hop onto our daily Zodiac tours or even better – sign up for Kayaking, where you might encounter these amazing animals at water level (yes, it’s perfectly safe!).
  • Humpback Whales are curious animals that also like to have a little fun. You might see them breaching (leaping out of the water, and sometimes twisting before smashing back down), spyhopping (poking their heads out of the water to have a look at what’s around), diving (cruising along the surface then diving deep, with the giant fluke then lifting above the surface) or lobtailing (slapping their flukes against the water to create noise). These ‘shows’ are the perfect photography opportunity.

 

Whale-y Interesting FACTS
  • Humpbacks usually travel alone or in small pods consisting of two or three whales.
  • As solitary as they might seem, they are actually a social species when it comes to hunting, teaming up with each other to herd and disorientate fish.
  • Humpbacks are known to have the longest annual migration of any mammal. They travel from the Antarctic Peninsula across the Equator to Columbia or even as far as Mexico.
  • Their Latin name, Megaptera novaeangliae, means “big wing of New England.”
  • Female Humpback Whalea breed every two to three years and carry their calves for a gestation period of about a year. 
  • It is estimated that over the summer period there are around 3,000 humpback whales in the West Antarctic Peninsula area.

Take a voyage with us to encounter these amazing animals! Have questions? Reach out to our team anytime!