Humpback whale Experiences and Encounters
Swimming alongside these magnificent animals, with just a snorkel, is a fascinating privilege. One of the larger species of baleen whale, humpbacks can grow up to 16 metres in length and are well known for singing some beautiful songs. Named after their shape as they dive under the surface, these impressive animals are very acrobatic, often breaching high out of the water, spy-hopping and lob-tailing, e.g. slapping the surface of the water with their tails creating a loud smack. Many of these characteristics are unexplained, whether they do it as a warning, to communicate or just for fun is still unknown. Swimming between 3-9mph with bursts up to 16.5mph in emergencies, they can dive for up to 30 minutes at a time reaching depths of up to 210 metres.
You can see humpbacks of four different colours; white, grey, black and mottled, and they all have distinctive patches of white under their tails, a marking which is as unique as a fingerprint to each individual whale. Throat grooves from their naval to their throat allow them to gulp huge amounts of krill and water during filter feeding and they have small bumps on the front of their heads and spout once or twice a minute whilst resting through two blowholes causing a double stream soaring over a metre in the air. This is their equivalent of breathing. Humpbacks have unique, technical feeding habits. Working together, pods will form a circle, blowing bubbles as they swim in a spiral towards the surface – essentially forcing the prey, usually krill, plankton or other small fish, to the surface in a large concentrated mass.
Humpbacks are known for their complex, imaginative songs which have the largest frequency range used by whales. In warm waters, they create beautiful, sometimes eerie sequences of squeaks and howls that travel through calm oceans. When the water is cold, the sounds become rougher, sounding more like groans. The reason for their songs and the difference in temperature in not known but could be to do with mating season or hunting, although only males have been recorded singing.
Humpbacks make seasonal migrations and are found throughout the world’s oceans. They give birth to one calf every one to three years, with a bond between mother and calf rarely broken.