Humpback whales can be considered the gentle giants of the ocean. They rarely show aggression, and they have been known to save other species like seals from predators such as killer whales.
With documented stories of humpbacks showing altruistic behavior, it’s hard not to fall in love with these majestic mammals.
If you’ve ever watched a humpback jump through the air and wondered what makes them tick or what life might be like for them, here are some facts you should know.
While humpback whales aren’t the biggest animal in the ocean, their size is still impressive. They can grow up to 52 feet long and weigh up to 90,000 pounds. It takes a lot of calories to support a mass that big. Their diets mainly consist of plankton, krill, and small fish, but they can pack away up to 3,000 pounds of food every day.
Although they eat constantly during the summer months, they generally fast in the winter months, living off the fat they’ve stored earlier in the year.
Known to migrate farther than any mammal on the planet, humpback whales don’t mind covering some ground, or water, more precisely. They can travel more than 3,000 miles to go between their breeding grounds and feeding grounds. One recorded migration saw humpbacks traveling more than 11,000 miles between the Antarctic Peninsula and American Samoa.
Breaching is when humpback whales propel themselves out of the water using their tails. It’s a magnificent sight to see, but why they do it is somewhat of a mystery.
Some researchers believe that humpback whales breach to have fun or remove parasites from their bodies, but a more popular theory is that it’s a form of communication with other whales.
Some marine animals, such as orcas and dolphins, are highly social and crave the constant company of their own species. Humpback whales don’t have as close ties with each other. Some prefer to travel solo, while others travel in small pods of two or three.
Female humpbacks have pregnancies that last almost 12 months long, and when a calf is born, it can weigh up to a ton and measure between 10 to 15 feet. But to get to that point, a female humpback whale must first find a mate.
They travel thousands of miles from their feeding grounds to find warm breeding waters. When they’re there, the males put on quite a show for the females by fighting with the other nearby males. They charge each other, tail slap, and breach to show off, without truly hurting the other males they’re competing against. They also have their own version of a sing-off, using songs to display dominance and attract the ladies.
Covering all those miles between breeding and feeding grounds is pretty slow going for humpbacks. Their huge size comes at a price. They aren’t the fastest animals, swimming at top speeds of approximately 15 or 16 miles per hour, and that speed is reserved for when they’re in danger. Their typical swimming speed usually ranges from 3 to 9 miles per hour.
Humpbacks are well-known for their loud singing, and the complex song each whale sings can vary depending upon where they live. The males’ songs can last anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, and they are sometimes repeated for hours.
But in addition to these long songs, they make other noises to communicate, like snorting, grunting, and groaning. The calves cleverly use low tones to communicate with their moms. Those low tones don’t carry as far in the water, keeping them safer from would-be predators.
Although humpbacks do have natural predators such as orcas and big sharks, humans were the predator responsible for their near extinction in the 1960s.
Only a few hundred Western South Atlantic humpbacks were alive in the 1950s, after being overfished by the whaling industry.
The slow-moving, coastal-loving whales made an easy target.
After protection was enacted in the 1960s, the population started a slow comeback. These days, the number of Western South Atlantic humpbacks is estimated at 25,000.
Unlike some types of marine life, humpbacks require oxygen, which explains the blowholes on top of their heads. As a mammal, they breathe air and must frequently surface for more oxygen. They are capable of holding their breath up to an hour when they need to, but more often come to the surface every 10 minutes or so for more oxygen.