Humpback Whale Facts
Though Humpbacks are not the largest whales in the world, they can grow up to 50 feet long, weighing approximately 80,000 pounds, making them the 5th largest of the whales. Humpbacks have the longest pectoral fins of all whales making them easily recognizable. The massive head of the humpback whale has two blowholes, on top, side by side for breathing. Humpback whales are mammals and breathe air at the surface. Some other noticeable characteristics of the humpback are its tubercles. These round bumps are found on the top of the head and lower jaw with at least one wire-like hair protruding from each one. These hairs are thought to help them sense in a way we do not totally understand but is thought they may allow the whale to detect movement in nearby waters. Humpback whales have been researched by qualified experts for many years, and still many of their characteristics are mysteries. An example of the elusive and unknown behavior of the humpback whale can be illustrated by what we know of birth. To this day, the birth of a newborn calf has never been documented or filmed.
The Whale Song
One of the many interesting behaviors of Humpback whales is their song. Every year, when our whales come back to Maui, we hear their incredible songs underwater. A typical song lasts from 10-20 minutes and can be repeated continuously for hours at a time. Only the makes sing and only in their breeding grounds. Every singing male of the North Pacific strain sings the same song. The song slowly changes in small ways throughout the season. As the changes occur, each crooner will sing the new and improved version. Scientists are uncertain what each song means, but speculation would point to communication while mating and fighting for a mate. From recent studies, we now know that it is the male humpback that responds to a singer and not the female as was previously believed.
In the summer, our Humpback whales live and feed in the North Pacific where schools of small fish and krill are plentiful. During the winter, they migrate south to warm Maui waters in order to breed and mate. In our waters, the temperature isn't suitable for krill and the small schooling fish of the humback diet like herring, mackerel, and capelin to live.
In order to survive the long trip south, as well as the time spent in Hawaiian waters without food, Humpbacks eat enough to build a thick layer of blubber, storing enough energy to last them through the duration. It is possible that these huge mammals feed while they travel when food is available, though their primary source of food comes from small schooling fish and krill found in cold Alaskan waters.
Conception and Birth
Humpback whales mate on the way to and in Hawaiian waters. Many times you'll find a competition pod of males fighting over the opportunity to mate with a female. If you have a chance to watch an active competition pod in action, you're in for a treat. The male whales will fight above and below water as they follow their prospective mate. On rare occasion, two males will butt up against each other and rise out of the water together in an awesome exhibition of power, aggression and pure testosterone as each tries to force the other down with a crushing blow. This behavior is called butting and is only one of the many methods male humpbacks use in combat. The battles can be fierce and spectacular. In 2008, an incredible comp pod of more than 40 animals was observed. This is thought to be a new record.
After the victorious male, now possibly battered, bruised and bleeding, has won the primary position next to the female, he is now subject to the whim of the female who may choose not to mate at all. Female humpbacks are larger than the males and in the world of humpbacks, they are boss. She may not want the aggressive, burly type that won the battle to escort her to father next years calf. If so, she will reject the winner and pick another of her choosing. Humpbacks are not monogamous and the male will leave the female after mating.
The female will then spend the next 11 and a half months in gestation before giving birth. Japan and Mexico are also winter birthing grounds for the female humpbacks, but it is believed a female who conceived in Hawaiian waters will be back in Hawaii the following year to give birth to her calf. Read more about Humpback Mothers and their Babies.
Also, learn more about our fascinating visiting friends from the North on our Surface Behavior Recognition page.