Humpback whales - Humpback whales are gifted singers and tricky hunters: Singing takes place in the South Seas, hunting is done in the cold fjords.

HUMPBACKS

The best singers and the most tricky hunters. Meet them on their annual migrations all over the world.

Credit

Photo: Shutterstock/Kent Ellington

HUMPBACKS

The best singers and the most tricky hunters. Meet them on their annual migrations all over the world.

Credit

Photo: Shutterstock/Kent Ellington

Review HUMPBACK WHALES

Humpback whales are fabulous acrobats, fantastic singers and very creative hunters. As their routes are well explored, they can be spotted in many places all over the world.

Humpbacks are probably the most popular whales among whale watchers. One reason is that their annual migration routes are well known. That means they can be quite reliably met at a certain place at a certain time. An even bigger reason is that humpbacks are great acrobats, fantastic singers and impressive hunters.

Humpbacks are curious animals and rather open-minded when it comes to boats and the people on them. Sometimes they even come close to get a better look at their visitors. Humpbacks like breaching and hurl their 30 ton bodies through the air with amazing ease. Quite often, the whole body is visible before it crashes back into the sea on its side.

When diving, humpback whales almost always lift their fluke, which is unique in shape and color for every animal – with the help of photo comparisons this makes identification quite easy, even for beginners. On a well conducted whale watching tour you will get further information about the sighted animals directly on board.

And obviously, humpback flukes are the best photo motive – with a little practice you can tell by the bending of the hump whether the whale is about to lift the fluke.

»Humpbacks are most likely able to communicate with each other over hundreds and thousands of kilometers.«

Also, humpbacks are great singers. Their songs are available on records and on Spotify. They are the longest and most complex vocalizations in the whole fauna. They consist of several verses with whistling and squeaking sounds and sonorous calls, which are sung in a certain order. Those songs can last up to 30 minutes and this is how they sound.

Those songs are sung over and over again for days and they get repeated every year – with slight alterations, which then get adapted by the whole group. Only the males sing, mostly during mating season in winter in tropical seas. And while doing that, they stand in the waters headfirst – all the time.

As the blue whales’, the humpbacks’ low frequency calls can spread over great distances. Most likely, two humpbacks are able to communicate with each other over hundreds and thousands of kilometers.

The flippers of a humpback whale can be up to five meters long and thus reach a good third of the body length.

Another unique thing about humpbacks is their feeding technique: Their ‘bubblenet-feeding’ starts by one or several whales closing in on swarms of fish in circles, trapping it in a wall of air bubbles. Then, other whales shoot through the swarm from below, swallowing hundreds of fish at once.

On the surface, bubblenet-feeding is first visible by a big circle of bubbles, quickly followed by the first panicking fish, which is pushed to the surface. If you witness this while in a kayak, it is high time to gain some distance.

Usually, humpbacks are very much aware of their size and act very gentle, when they are around boats or kayaks. That, however, is not the case during feeding time, when they focus on just that. When a 30 ton giant with a mouth the size of a garage door is about to feed, the smarter move is to get out of the way.

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Photo: Shutterstock/Gudkov_Andrey
SIZE

11 to 16 meters, a maximum of 19 meters. Females are slightly bigger than males. The weight ranges between 25 and 30 tons.

COLOUR

Dark grey to black, often with white spots on the belly. The bottom side of the pectoral fins and the fluke are lighter or white.

SHAPE

Massive body, lots of bumps on the head. Flippers can be up to 5 meters long, reaching up to one third of the body length.

BLOW

Medium high, bushy blow. About 3 to 4 meters. Well audible.

FIN

Far in the back and barely visible, sometimes hardly recognizable. Sitting on a visible hump.

FLUKE

Wide, slightly curved with a frayed rear edge and a dent in the middle. White spots on the bottom side.

BEHAVIOUR

Often curious, boats are often inspected from close up. Very active on the surface.

DIVES

Mostly medium length dives from 3 to 9 minutes. Maximum of 20 to 30 minutes.

NUMBERS

Humpbacks can be found in every ocean. About 60.000 animals worldwide.

Credit

Photo: Shutterstock/Shane_Gross

Credit

Photo: Shutterstock/Shane_Gross

Checklist HUMPBACK WHALES

When diving, the bend of the whales back lets you know if the whale is about to raise its fluke.

Humpbacks often travel together, mostly in twos or threes, sometime in groups of up to 15 animals. When surfacing, the first things to become visible are the two blowholes and the slightly elevated splash guard around it. The blow is bushy and medium high. It can be seen especially well in cold weather.

As soon as the fin is visible on the surface, the whales back forms a clearly visible triangle with the waterline. No other whale has such a strong bending of its back. As soon as the fin dips back into the water, this bending becomes even stronger.

The intensity of this bend indicates whether the whale is simply gliding down or lifting the fluke before descending. The more vertically and deeply the whale dives, the higher it lifts the fluke.

Humpback whales love to breach and they often show the fluke. Characteristic: the clearly visible hump before diving.

On the surface, humpback whales are easily recognizable by their heads, which are often full of barnacles and tubercles. However, the head remains quite flat in the water when the whale emerges, spy shops are rather rare.

Instead, humpback whales often stretch their extremely long flippers out of the water, which make up a good third of their body length. You can also often see them hitting the water with their fluke.

When diving you should pay attention to the fluke: Shape and colour are different for each animal, similar to human fingerprints. Each humpback whale can be clearly identified by its fluke.

In order to recognize individual animals with the help of photo identification, the fluke should be photographed as straight as possible from behind and while fully in the air – this is the best way to compare the shape and colour of the flukes with the existing photos in the catalogue.

Credit

Photo: Oliver Dirr / whaletrips

Where and when HUMPBACK WHALES

Humpbacks can be found in every ocean. They constantly migrate between tropical areas for mating and arctic regions for feeding.

Humpbacks are at home in every ocean and migrate near the coasts with the seasons. While spending the summers in higher latitudes, winter is mating season and spent in tropical waters. Their traveling routes are well known, can be subject to seasonal changes, though.

Popular summer quarters in the Atlantic Ocean are for example: New England, and the Gulf of Maine, the Canadian Gulf of St. Lawrence, Newfoundland, Labrador and Greenland, Iceland and Norway. In the Pacific, the best areas are Western Canada and Alaska. Also the Arctic and Antarctica.

In winter, the best areas are the Caribbean, Hawaii and the Oceanic Islands, especially Tonga. This is also where the many spectacular instagram photos of people diving with humpbacks come from. This, however, is something you should leave to scientists and National-Geographic reporters, instead of visiting the animals under water, too.

The coasts of Eastern and Western Australia are also very good places for looking for humpbacks during winter. The whale migration along the coast of New South Wales is one of the biggest marine migrations worldwide.

From May to November, thousands of humpback whales make their way along the coast from Brisbane to Sidney. First to the north, then back south again. This is why whale-watching season ends sooner in the north than in the south, where it only begins in September.

During summer (and quite often in the winters, too), the fjords of Norway and Iceland are also full of humpbacks looking for food. Chances of witnessing bubblenet-feeding are very good here. In spring, from April to May, you can also meet humpbacks on the Azores, when they are on their way to Iceland and Greenland.

Humpback whales can be found in quite a lot of places in the world. Below are our favorites: