The Spectacular Humpback Whale

The humpback whale is one of the most interesting creatures to be found in Australian waters, and certainly one of the most popular! The humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae) is a baleen whale species. Baleen whales feed using keratinaceous “whalebone” baleen plates in their mouths to sieve planktonic creatures like krill out of the water. Adult humpback whales range in length from 14–17 m and weigh up to 40 metric tons. The humpback’s body shape is distinctive, with long pectoral fins and tubercles on its head. Their genus, Megaptera, comes from the Ancient Greek mega, meaning “giant” and ptera, or “wing”, in reference to their large front flippers.

Every year humpback whales migrate from the Southern Ocean that surrounds Antarctica northwards along Australia’s Pacific coastline to mate in the warm, sub-tropical waters. From April to November they can be found frolicking on their way and that’s the time to join the fascinating whale-watching tours in Sydney and view these magnificent sea creatures in person! The fresh salt air and ocean spray alone make the trip enjoyable, but that moment when the first humpback breaches can only be described as magical!

Humpback whales love to fling themselves up out of the water as if they intend to take flight. Scientists think these manoeuvres might be performed for a variety of reasons, from cleaning off barnacles and other debris from their body, to impressing potential mates and competing suitors, or, especially in the case of young calves, just because it’s great fun! In any case, they all seem to enjoy doing it, and the resulting show is absolutely spectacular!

Here are just a few of the surface behaviours whale watchers have the chance to witness:

Tail Throws- The whale’s massive tail, or “fluke” is lifted high out of the water and then thrown back into the ocean. Female humpbacks in particular engage in tail throws, and it might be a way to attract the attention of males looking to mate.

Pectoral Slap- The female humpbacks raise their pectoral fins up out of the water and then slap them down on the surface several times. This might be another mating ritual, equivalent to “come hither!”

Breaching – The whale propels itself up out of the water, then crashes back to the surface with a mighty splash. Why do they do it? Maybe just for the fun of it, and to splash us nosy humans!

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