Fun Facts About Humpback Whales

Ready to make a splash at one of Dive Ninja’s whale watching expeditions? Here’s some fun facts about Megaptera novaeangliae, or the humpback whale. How much do you know about our big flippered friends?

Marine Mammals

That’s right, humpback whales, like all whales, are mammals, not fish. The whale is actually the closest living relative of the hippo, believe it or not! Wouldn’t that be an interesting family reunion!  About 50 to 60 million years ago, some land mammals wandered off into the ocean, decided they liked it there, and eventually evolved into marine mammals, including the humpback whale! Like all mammals, whales breathe air through a pair of lungs, are warm blooded, and give birth to live young who drink milk. 

How does nursing work underwater, you might ask? Well, whale milk is super high in fat, with a toothpaste like consistency. This allows it to travel through the water without breaking up too much.  When baby is hungry, mom pretty much shoots the milk straight into its mouth! A baby humpback may drink up to 150 gallons of milk a day! And by way, the waters around Cabo San Lucas serve as a humpback nursery, so come join us on a whale watching tour for a chance to check out these hungry baby guzzlers yourself!

Humpback whale mother and calf
Humpback whale breaching

The Turbo Charged Pectoral Fin

The humpback whale pectoral, or pec, fin, is the longest appendage of any animal on earth. Humpback pec fins measure one third of the entire whale’s body length, or approximately twelve to fifteen feet long. Researchers have found that humpbacks use their extra long fins to get a turbo boost while swimming. Whales would occasionally flap their fins like a penguin would while swimming underwater, causing a burst of acceleration. Humpbacks are the only species capable of this, as no other marine mammals have pec fins long enough to create such propulsion. And, if you look at the skeleton of a humpback, you’ll realise that pec fins are really modified mammalian front legs – they even have five individual fingers!

They Have Hair

Take a closer look at a humpback whale, and you can’t fail to notice the golf ball sized bumps on its head. These are called tubercles, and house their hair! Their position is similar to whiskers in land mammals, along the jawline, and the chin. So why do they have hair? Whales have blubber to keep them warm, so no fur coats required. Scientists think that the hair follicles may be used as an organ to sense prey, or detect changes in the water currents and temperature.  The bumps may also be used to increase lift and reduce drag in the water. In fact, an energy company called WhalePower is applying tubercle inspired bumps to numerous types of wind turbines and fans to improve their efficiency. 

Humpback whale and calf
Humpback whale watching in Los Cabos, Mexico

Acrobatic Ninjas

Humpback whales are the most agile of all whales.  Their particularly large pec fins, big fanned tail and hump-shaped back with a small dorsal fin gives them the ability to power out of the water and perform feats of aerial acrobatics, such as breaching continuously out of the water.  Want to see this for real? Come on a whale watching tour with us in Cabo San Lucas! Get the chance to witness how a humpback gracefully spins round and almost twirls as it breaches out the ocean! It’s is all the more amazing when you consider how big they are!

So why do humpbacks breach? Scientists have found that breaching is most common when pods of humpbacks are far apart (at least 2.5 miles).  Breaching is therefore possibly a form of long distance communication. Or, maybe they do it just for the sheer fun of it! To be honest, scientists don’t really know the answer, and this is an area of ongoing research.

Singing Whales

Yes, humpback whales sing! But only the males! The humpback whale song is one of the most complex acoustic displays in the animal kingdom. How do they do this? Scientists have found that humpbacks have vocal folds in their voice boxes. Like vocal cords in humans, these vibrate as air moves over them, producing sound. It’s been suggested that in humpbacks, air can be moved between the vocal folds and their lungs, allowing whales to sing without losing air. And, surprisingly, all the males within a population will sing the same song over the course of a season.  Want to check out this season’s greatest hit? Join us on a whale watch tour in Cabo, where we’ll drop a hydrophone into the water to eavesdrop on these giant singers!

And why do they sing? Well, this is yet another one of those things, where we don’t really know. Theories have ranged from singing as part of their courtship rituals, to using it to navigate around their surroundings.

Protective Whales

Humpback whales have now earned a reputation as the police force of the ocean, due to their behaviour of protecting other species from predators. This ranges from getting in the way of orcas hunting grey whale calves, to (famously) sharks from humans. So why do they do this? Are they really altruistic whales? To be honest, right now we don’t know. Humpbacks are intelligent animals, capable of sophisticated thinking, decision making, problem solving, and communication. So maybe they really have self appointed themselves as the administrator of justice in the oceans!  It just goes to show we have so much more to learn about these extraordinary animals!

Intrigued by these humpback facts? Inspired to see them in real life? Join Dive Ninjas on one our eco friendly whale watching tripsSend us a message today or click here to book now!

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Ninja Family Guest Writer:

Sze Wei

Lover of all marine animals big and small – and ok, yes, I like diving a lot!  When not underwater, I can be found in London with my goldfish.
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