There’s something visceral about seeing a whale, whether it’s for the first time, or just the latest in a string of whale watching adventures (the activity has a large fan club – don’t be surprised if you become a bit of an enthusiast yourself). Perhaps it’s their sheer size – humbling and wonderful as looking up at the stars – or their innate curiosity and even friendliness, despite the danger humans have long presented to them.
Whether you’re spotting them from a plane as you fly over the gorgeous coastal waters of the Queen Charlotte Strait on your way to Great Bear Lodge, our luxury eco lodge in Canada, or seeing the whales up close from a zodiac as part of a luxury cruise in South America, humpbacks are one of the best whales to encounter. Their musical natures and acrobatic displays, as well as those wide baleen grins, have made them a favourite among nature lovers around the world. Here are a few fun facts about the species.
- Male humpback whales are known for their songs – complex arrangements of sounds that they learn from one another and that are possibly used as mating calls. Each population has its own unique songs, which can be heard from as far as 20 miles away.
- The whales only feed during the summer. During the winter, humpback whales rely on their fat reserves, built up over the warmer months, to survive.
- The whales are world travellers, and can be found in oceans across the globe, from polar to tropical waters, travelling in pods of up to 20,000 whales. During migration, they cover over 1,000 miles per month, as they speed along regular migration routes.
- Humpbacks have unique markings on the underside of their tail, similar to human fingerprints. Which must make things easier for whale detectives.
- Despite their weight, humpbacks are acrobatic. They’re able to breech – to lift their 36,000 kg bodyweight completely out of the water with the help of their large flukes. Your best chance of seeing this incredible sight up close is as part of our special whale watching departures on board Australis luxury charter yacht in South America, which visits the whales in their natural habitat in the Fuegian Channels and Carlos III Island.
- Other whale activity to look out for is spyhopping, where they poke their heads out of the water to have a look around, and lobtailing, where they raise their tails above the surface and slap them down.
- “Look mum, no teef!” Instead of teeth, humpback whales have baleen plates, which filter water for fish and krill, the whales’ food source. They can eat up to a ton of food a day!
- Humpbacks have to remember to breathe (unlike humans, for whom it is an involuntary reflex). Scientists think that the whales shut off half their brain at a time so that they can sleep, but still breathe normally.
- At the top of their heads and lower jaws, the whales have bumps called tubercles from which grow one or more stiff hairs. The purpose of these is unknown, although it may have something to do with detecting movement nearby.
- One of the threats to humpbacks presently is noise pollution, since they have extremely sensitive ears.