Humpback Whale Facts for your Whale Watching
Cruise, so you’ll have a wonderful cruise and better understanding and
appreciation for humpbacks.
Not surprisingly, the Pacific Northwest is a great destination for whale watching enthusiasts. Among the many whale species to travel along our coastlines twice a year, the humpback whale is one of the most exciting to spot! (Below: photo credit: Flickr user Blair Haggerty under Creative Commons 2.0)
There are two main populations one can encounter off the Washington coast.
The California/Oregon/Washington group:
The Central North Pacific group:
While these groups (along with a third - the Western Pacific group) may intermingle while travelling, they are still considered distinctive groups.
Among migratory mammals, these “gentle giants” win the prize for the longest migration. The longest recorded trip is 5,160 miles! But they don't waste any time along the way, in fact, closely studied routes between Alaska and Hawaii have shown humpbacks making the approximately 3,000 mile trip in as little as 36 days. During migration, humpbacks travel at a steady pace of 3-7 mph, staying close to the surface, and stopping rarely.
It's quite the treat to catch a Humpback whale rise above the
water's surface, and it's no surprise that they are a whale watching favorite,
since they often put on quite the aerial show. Their frequent above water
It's not clear whether these activities are purposeful - to remove skin parasites or communicate with others, or merely just for fun. Lobtailing may be done as a warning to other whales.
Outside of their unique body shape, what first comes to mind
when you think of well-known characteristics of the Humpback whale? Quite
possibly it would be their elaborate “singing.” These long vocalization
patterns are a favorite activity of male humpbacks, and all males within a
population will sing the same song in unison. Their song is usually complex,
and may go on for 20 minutes and be heard up to 20 miles away! It might be
repeated over and over for hours at a time. Though years of study have gone
into humpback whale singing, not much is known about the activity. Many
scientific observers believe it may have to do with mating or communication
with their other pod members.
Whale watching cruises leave from these cities:
Forks: See humpbacks from the shore of First Beach during March and April
The Humpback whale is a “stockier” whale, possessing its trademark hump along the back. But where they might lack in long, sleek body shape, they make up for in their pectoral fins, which are about 1/3 of their total body size – the largest fins of all whale species. In fact, their scientific name (Megaptera novaeangliae) means “Big-winged New Englander” or “Great wings of New England”. These fins are very important to the Humpback, allowing them increased maneuverability; they can be used to slow their speed down or even go backwards.
Instead of actual teeth, the Humpback whale is a baleen whale, possessing baleen where teeth would be. Acting as a sieve, these plate-like bristles filter out water as the whale eats, while keeping in krill and other food. They have about 330 pairs of these bristles, divided into two rows, along their top and bottom jaws.
At first glance, Humpback whales may all seem to look all look alike, due to their plain dark gray color which is common among the species. But upon closer inspection, one can find characteristic patterns of color and markings under their flukes. Each of these patterns is so unique that they can be used for identification purposes, much like the human fingerprint.
Other humpback whale facts and physical features:
During winter, not a lot of feeding takes place, and the focus turns to mating. Humpback males are often quite competitive when it comes to selecting a mate, and will display aggressive behavior and activities. They may chase, thrash their back fins, and use vocalization to intimidate other males. It doesn't always stop there, however - physical confrontation, possibly leading to injury, can occur, and the outcome of at least one death has been recorded.
A female humpback whale is capable of breeding once every two
years. The gestation period lasts about 11 months and a mother will birth in
the warmest available water- typically shallow, near reefs, islands or the
At birth, a newborn will weigh about 1 ton, and be 13-16 feet
long. They grow rapidly, drinking 100 pounds of milk each day. Calves are weaned
between 6-10 months of age. Mothers are very loving, and will keep a close eye
on their calves, swimming near enough to occasionally touch them with their