Do Humpbacks display instinct or empathic intelligence?
See what the science says?
Learn fun facts about Humpback behaviour!
Discover Humpback Whale migration habits!
LEARN TO IDENTIFY
The Different Groups!
By Adriana Del Bianco
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Why do Humpback Whales save other animals from predators like the Killer Whale?
An interesting observation about these gentle giants is that they’re known to protect other species from predatory animals such as Killer whales (otherwise known as Orcas).
Humpback Whales display unique altruistic behavior by putting themselves at risk to save the lives of seals, porpoises and other creatures including fellow whales of different species.
Intriguingly, this altruistic behavior is displayed in humpback whales located throughout the world. Certain theories suggest this vigilante behavior may have an evolutionary advantage in that young Humpback whales are vulnerable to Orca predation while adults are not.
Fully grown adults are capable of taking on Orca pods to defend their young, and this behavior may be triggered when they see killer whales predating other species.
A fully grown Humpback Whale can take on a pod of Killer Whales.
This amazing phenomenon could simply be explained away as some type of biological behavior if it weren’t for other interesting factors like Killer whales targeting Humpbacks only 11 percent of the time compared to other marine mammals.
In the last six decades there have been up to 115 interactions recorded according to a study published in the journal Marine Mammal Science.
There’s some speculation among scientists that the activity may be a personal vendetta against Killer whales. Many of the Humpbacks who engage in this behavior show signs of scarring, which could indicate that they were victims of killer whale attacks when they were calves.
Humpbacks are the superheros of the ocean
Here’s a Video of Humpbacks coming to the rescue of a Baby Calf from a pod of Killer Whales.
Could it be Altruism?
It wouldn’t be too far-fetched for the Humpback Whale actions to be altruistic, after all they do display practical thinking skills, they’re capable of problem solving, decision making and sophisticated communication which leads one to think it’s possible, they can also empathise with other creatures as well.
This is probably why they earned the name Megaptera Novangeliae meaning: Large Winged New Angel.
Some other interesting facts about the Humpback Whale & their migratory behavior:
- Their average lifespan is about 50 years of age.
- They use different techniques such as lunge feeding and bubble netting to capture Krill and small fish.
- They have no teeth – instead they have brittle baleen plates that act as filters.
- Males use songs composed of complex clicks, whistles and grunts to communicate with other males and to attract females.
Why do we see them?
They are on their annual migration from their feeding grounds in the Antarctic to their breeding grounds in the Whitsunday Islands. It’s about a 5000 km trip each way – essentially, they will travel ½ the earth’s circumference each year.
The waters are much warmer in the Whitsundays remaining at around 22-23 degrees all year around. They come here to breed and to give birth to their calves. If the calves were born in the colder waters of the Antarctic, they would freeze to death, as they have no blubber built up around them to keep them warm.
The milk the calves drink is over 50% fat and the calves can double their body weight within the first week of life, quickly building up the necessary layer of blubber to protect them from the cold arctic waters.
How to identify the Humpback Whale?
- They are one of the largest species of whale, the fifth largest of all whales.
- They have baleen plates (no teeth).
- They have a grooved throat.
About Baleen Whales.
Baleen Whales: Are characterized by baleen plates that hang from the upper jaw – used to filter food. Other groups of whales which are toothed whales, incl. Dolphins & The Beluga Whale.
In a group of Baleen Whales there is a smaller group called Rorqual’s.
Rorqual is an old Nordic word meaning grooved throat (see by their 30+ throat grooves). These grooves allow for expansion of the mouth as they take gulps when feeding. Nine species including the Northern Right Whale, Southern Right Whale, Blue Whale, Grey Whale, Minke Whale & Bryde’s Whale have this grooved mouth.
How to distinguish the different groups of Humpback Whale.
In particular, it is their pectoral fins that are distinguishable, they are very large fins to the point that they are out of proportion to their body compared with other whale species, and sometime’s they can be up the 5m in length, which is one-third their body length.
They have tubercles or bumps on their head which each have one individual hair in them thought to be a sensory hair. They are black on the top and white on the bottom which aids in their camouflage.
Migaloo – The white albino of the ocean.
Northern Humpbacks have more black than white and our southern humpbacks have more white than black. There is even a totally white albino whale called “Migaloo” which travels the East coast of Australia and in the last few years, there’s a new baby calf who is also pure white. It’s always a special treat to see the Migaloo Albino Humpback Whale.
Individual patterns are like fingerprints!
Each Humpback has a different pattern of black and white on the underside of it’s tail, these are so unique that they are likened to our fingerprints as they can be used to identify each individual whale. These unique tail patterns are how we know how many individuals are travelling the East coast.
Some more identifiable features are:
- They have 2 blowholes, unlike any of the toothed whales that only have one.
- They are also the most acrobatic of all whales.
- They weigh between 25-40 tonnes (1 tonne at birth).
- They grow to 16m in length (4m at birth).
- They’re the bulkiest of all rorquals.
- They’re the 5th largest whale.
Mating Habits Of The Humpback.
Humpbacks have the longest and most complex song of any animal in the animal kingdom. Each song lasts 5-15 mins and can be repeated for hours. It is mainly only the males that sing & only on migration.
Various theories suggest that this is how they find their way by singing to each other or possibly, it is just a mating call to impress the females.
Some Interesting facts about Humpbacks.
- Gestation period is between 11-11.5 months (they travel up one year to breed, then come back the next year to give birth).
- They Reach sexual maturity at 5 years. Males at 38 feet (11.5m) Females at 40 feet (12m).
- We can only guess at the age of each whale due to its size and can only tell for sure by cross sections of teeth or earwax plugs.
- The oldest recorded humpback whale was 95 years of age.
- Mating: females pick their escorts; males advertise through song.
- Males compete with one another by head butting, slapping tail flukes and pectoral fins & jostling.
- You will notice the head, tail and pectoral fins have knobs on the edges of them and these can cause damage, although not severe, to other males by slapping them or by head butting.
- The male courts the female by blowing bubbles around her to disguise her from other males and then chases her around in circles doing head lobs which basically to us looks like he’s trying to head butt her as he chases her around.
Pods of whale migration.
Pods of whales are generally groups of 1-3 in migration (but can be a few more if pods join together along the way). These groups generally consist of 1 female her calf and an escort.
This escort is there to aid the mother in the protection of the young as they are the most susceptible to predation and it was originally thought to be another female like an aunt.
It is now presumed that this escort is actually a male helping the female and is therefore there first when she is ready to breed again (he gets in first). Other males generally travel alone although you will often find this far up the coast along their journey that they have joined with other males and it is often in the presence of females that these males will become the most active competing with one another.
Where are they now?
If you pay a visit to Mariner’s Cove Marina, you will find Spirit of Gold Coast busily preparing for another spectacular whale watching season. The office staff are ready to take your bookings. The boat crew can’t wait to take you back out on the water.
The Spirit vessel is sparkly clean and ready to go… But where are the whales? Why can’t we go whale watching yet? Quite simply, our beautiful Gentle Giants of the sea just aren’t here yet.
So when is whale watching season?
The first Humpback Whales will depart Antarctica at the beginning of April. Typically, young male whales will leave first, followed by adult whales ready to breed, with pregnant whales and last season calves being the last to leave.
This means no matter when you go whale watching in Australia during the whale watching season, you are bound to encounter one of our unique and beautiful Humpbacks.
While Spirit of Gold Coast will have to wait until the end of May to see these majestic creatures of the sea, we know that the wait will be worth it.
We’re eagerly awaiting news of whale sightings from other Whale Watching Tour Operators down south, and will keep you posted (Like Our Facebook Page To Keep Updated). The countdown is on!
Whale watching in Australia.
Humpback Whales are a migratory species, who spend several months of each year travelling north from Antarctica to warmer sub-tropical waters to mate and give birth.
Whale calves are born without a protective layer of fat or blubber and would not survive if they were born in their cold Antarctic home.
So, as we start to feel the cold and pull our warm clothes out of the closet, the Humpback Whales make sure that their bellies are full of krill, and will slowly start to travel north.
It’s important for them to have this last feed, as Humpbacks don’t eat while they’re migrating. This is why we see big plump whales at the beginning of the whale season and more lean Humpbacks towards the end.
The Top 5 Locations To View Humpback Whale Migrations In Australia:
- Gold Coast QLD – (Between May – Oct) You can book a tour through Spirit Whale Watching.
- Victor Harbour SA – (Between Jul – Aug) You can book a tour through The Big Duck
- Exmouth WA – (Between Apr – Jul) You can book a tour through Nigaloo Whale Sharks
- Whitsunday Island QLD (Between May – Oct) You can book a tour through Experience Oz
- Eden NSW (Between May – Oct) You can book a tour through Wild About Whales
We’ve put together an info-graphic with some of the top oz whale watching locations in Australia, which includes their general month’s for migration & other habits.
Top Oz Whale Watching locations Info-graphic
Feeding strategies of the Humpbacks.
Feeding groups are often larger as the whales work together to get more food for the effort they each put in. Some interesting feeding strategies and dietary habits are listed below:
Bubble Netting: One or two whales blow bubbles around the school of fish or krill causing them to congregate closer together and then the other whales will come up from underneath taking a big gulp getting more food per mouthful than they would have alone.
Stunning Their Prey: Whales can also stun their prey by slapping them with their pectoral fins or tails.
Main Diet Consists Of Krill: Whales feed on Krill a small shrimp like creature found in huge amounts in the Antarctic waters and also some schooling fish (mackerel or herring).
How Much Is Consumed In A Day: Each whale will consume up to 4% of its total body weight per day (for a 30 tonne animal that is 1.2 tonne of krill!).
How has whaling affected the Baleen Whale populations?
Whaling is aimed at Baleen Whales because:
- They’re the largest migratory whales (predictable).
- They bulk up for migration (oil).
- The right whale is targeted mainly (Northern & Southern) but got it’s name as it was considered the ‘right’ whale to hunt: it’s full of oil & easy to catch.
Some sad statistics and facts about Right whaling:
The Northern Right whale population was originally around 200,000 whales but now is down to 300 maximum. The Humpback population is recovering since whaling ceased in Australian Waters and they were declared an endangered population in 1966, growing at about 10% each year: estimated to be at almost 6000 individuals now.
You can find out some more statistics & facts about whaling here.
What are the main ocean predators for humpbacks?
There are 2 main predators: The Killer Whale and Great White Shark.
Killer whales are generally found in Bass Strait this time of year as they are awaiting the return of the whales and ambush them as they come through the strait. They generally go for the calves, as they are an easier size to handle and are more vulnerable.
Killer Whales hunt in packs and can spend hours trying to wear out a mother and calf. Once they finally get to the calf, they bite its tail to kill it and then they eat only the lower jaw and lips – perhaps this is the tastiest part.
Watch our Spirit Cruise video below:
Spirit Whale Watching Gold Coast Tours
It’s only a matter of weeks before we’re graced with the opportunity to witness The Humpback Whale in all it’s glory. Be spellbound and take home unique memories as these majestic creatures perform amazing acrobatic displays.
Book Now for an early bird discount (We have a limited time offer until 31st May for Adults at Kids Prices! Only $59! ..Down from $99 It’s a Whale of a Saving with 40% off. You’ll enjoy a fabulous cruise on our Spirit Of Gold Coast luxurious 24 meter catamaran vessel which includes 360⁰ views from a fully licensed bar, complimentary morning tea on arrival and a 2.5 hour whale watching cruise with a stunning Gold Coast skyline in the background.