World Whale Day (16th February)

World Whale Day (16th February)

Posted on Saturday 16th February 2019

Categories: Wildlife

Amazing Animals: The whisperings, whistles and songs of a majestic ocean giant

Humpback whales are known for both their haunting and melodic songs and for breaching the water with amazing acrobatic abilities. They can grow to 60 feet (18 meters) long, and can weigh 40 tons. Their flippers are the largest appendage in the world, growing up to 16 feet (5 m) long, and their tails grow up to 18 feet (5.5 m) wide. Humpbacks' heads are broad and rounded and covered with knobs, called tubercles. Each knob contains one or more stiff hairs that are thought to act as motion detectors. 

Humpbacks are globetrotters and migrate farther than any other mammal on Earth, travelling around 3,000 miles (5,000 kilometers) from summer feeding grounds near the poles to warmer winter breeding waters closer to the Equator. The exception is the humpbacks that live in the Arabian Sea. They stay there year-round.

Humpbacks typically travel alone or in small pods, consisting of two or three whales. When together, they communicate with each other and travel together, and moms and their young touch fins as a possible sign of endearment.

Once in their breeding grounds, the males produce the most majestic and haunting of songs which can be heard up to 30 km away and are used to communicate with each other and potentially to attract potential mates. These songs are the most complex in the animal kingdom made up of sequences of high-pitched squeals and whistles, low rumbling-gurgles, moans, howls and cries.

The males may sing for many hours, repeating the song several times, and all males in a population sing the same song, but the songs of each population are different. The song themes evolve gradually over time indicating the existence of song exchange and cultural transmission in the feeding grounds, with whole populations changing their songs over time. 

But these gentle giants don't just bellow out loud songs. During their migrations, calves make very quiet ‘whispering’ vocalizations, much quieter than those of adult humpback whales, travelling some 100 metres instead of the several kilometres reached by the communicating males. These ‘whispers’ are thought to be used as a way for calves to communicate with mothers without being detected by nearby killer whales that use acoustic communications between calves and their mothers to locate them.

Humpback whales really are amazing animals

Humpback whale conservation

Humpback’s are classified as ‘least concern’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. However, as recently as 1988, humpback whales were listed as endangered. Populations have recovered to between 30,000 and 40,000, which is about 30 to 35 percent of the population in 1940, according to the American Cetacean Society. The IUCN has a higher estimate of around 60,000 animals.

Commercial whaling of humpback whales is prohibited by the International Whaling Commission. Nevertheless, some humpbacks are still hunted, for subsistence purposes, in Greenland. Native people are allowed to kill a limited number of whales because whaling is classified as a major part of their culture.


LISTEN

Click HERE to hear haunting Humpback whale song from Monterey Bay

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