Species: Megaptera novaeangliae
Likelihood of sightings: High
Migrating up to 16,000 miles every year, humpback whales are a huge species of baleen whale that are found in oceans and seas around the world. They generally feed in polar waters during the summer, then migrate to subtropical or tropical waters in the winter to breed and birth their young while living off their fat reserves.
Humpback whales can be divided into four global population groups - the North Pacific, Atlantic, Southern Ocean and Indian Ocean populations. The population that migrates from Alaska to Hawaii is one of the most studied, with some humpbacks making the trip in as little as 36 days!
Humpback whales are distinguished by their obvious hump, with long pectoral fins and tabernacles covering their head and lower jaw. Males grow to around 45 feet in length, with females slightly larger, weighing in at around 25 to 30 metric tons.
Humpback whales feed mostly on krill, plankton and small fish, eating rarely and opportunistically over the winter months. They are known to stun prey by hitting the water with their pectoral fins or flukes, as well as do what is known as “bubble netting”. A group of whales will swim in a shrinking circle while blowing bubbles below their prey, encircling the school of fish and confining it to a smaller and smaller cylinder. Some of the whales will dive deeper to drive fish to the surface and others will herd them through vocalizations. All of sudden, the whales will then swim upward with their mouths agape, swallowing huge numbers of fish in a single gulp and allowing the water to drain out through pleated grooves in their mouth.
Humpback whales are one of the ocean’s most captivating creatures, often seen breaching at the surface in what is a spectacular display. They use their massive fluked tail to propel themselves into the air, although it’s not known whether this serves a purpose or is just purely for fun! Humpback whales do need air to breathe, however, and must regularly come to the surface for this reason.
The males are renowned for their magical songs that can travel great distances through the ocean, consisting of moans, cries and howls. They can continue for hours, although whether this is to attract females or establish their dominance over other males is unknown.
Humpback whales court during the winter, with males trailing females or gathering in groups around her to fight for the right to mate. Males are known to breach, tail slap and even charge in these displays.
Females will typically give birth every two or three years and, if you’re lucky, you may spot a young humpback whale swimming close to their mother, touching one another with their flippers in affectionate gestures. Calves nurse with their mother for about a year, although they don’t stop growing until they are 10 years of age.
While humpback whales were hunted to the brink of extinction at the height of the whaling industry, their global numbers are now at around 80,000 and the population is steadily increasing.
Enjoy the opportunity to see these gentle giants in the wild on one of our BC Unbound Kayaking Tours!