Our Annual Visitors – Humpback Whales
Humpback Whales come past our coastline every winter from the end of May to December on their way up to Mozambique, feeding on tiny shrimp-like krill, plankton, and small fish.
Humpbacks migrate annually from summer feeding grounds near the poles to warmer winter breeding waters closer to the Equator. Mothers and their young swim close together, often touching one another with their flippers with what appear to be gestures of affection. Females nurse their calves for almost a year, though it takes far longer than that for a Humpback whale to reach full adulthood. Calves do not stop growing until they are ten years old. Courtship rituals take place during the winter months, following migration toward the equator from summer feeding grounds closer to the poles. Females typically breed every two or three years, with the gestation period being 11 and half months.
The peak months for birth are January, February, July, and August, with usually a one – to two – year period between Humpback births. These incredible creatures can live for up to 48 years. Humpbacks, known to be a friendly species, often interact with other cetacean species such as bottlenose dolphins.
A humpback whale can easily be identified by its stocky body with an obvious hump and black dorsal colouring. The head and lower jaw are covered with knobs called tubercles, which are hair follicles, and are characteristic of the species.
Humpback whales are known for their magical songs, which travel for great distances through the world’s oceans. These sequences of moans, howls, cries, and other noises are quite complex and often continue for hours on end. Scientists are studying these sounds to decipher their meaning. It is most likely that humpbacks sing to communicate with others and to attract potential mates.
Found in oceans and seas around the world, Humpback whales typically migrate up to 25,000 kilometres each year. Humpbacks are powerful swimmers, and they use their massive tail fin – called a fluke, to propel themselves through the water and sometimes completely out of it. These whales, like others, regularly leap from the water, landing with a tremendous splash. Scientists aren’t sure if this breaching behaviour serves some purpose, such as cleaning pests from the whale’s skin, or whether whales simply do it for fun.