Once hunted to the brink of extinction, humpback whales now number about 80,000. Here are seven interesting facts about these baleen whales.
1. The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is a species of baleen whale. The baleen plates have bristles attached to them that capture small prey like small fish, krill, salmon, herring and mackerel. Humpbacks have from 270 to 400 darkly colored baleen plates on each side of their mouths.
2. Fully grown humpback whale males are slightly smaller (43 to 46 feet) than females (49 to 52 feet).
3. Newborn humpback calves are about the length of their mother’s head. At birth, calves are about 20 feet long and weigh 2 short tons (most cars weigh about 1/2 ton). They nurse for about six months.
4. Like a human fingerprint, the tail of each humpback whale is unique. A photographic catalog of all known North Atlantic whales is maintained by College of the Atlantic.
5. Another characteristic that is unique to baleen whales such as the humpback is the presence of two blowholes on top of their heads.
6. Humpback whales are known for their beautiful songs, which are often heard during mating season. In addition to being used in their mating rituals, whale songs are also believed to be used as other forms of communication, though this is poorly understood. The songs are described as a combination of moans, cries and howls and can be heard underwater for many miles.
7. During the humpbacks’ feeding season, these whales hunt using a technique known as bubble net fishing — a group of humpback whales swim around their prey in a circle and blow bubbles around their prey in order to herd the fish into a tight ball.