Almost two-thirds of North Pacific humpback whales (estimates range from 4,000 to 10,000 whales) migrates to Hawaiian waters each winter to bear and nurse their calves and to mate, although not to eat. Their throats are only the size of a large dinner plate or a volleyball. While in Alaska they spend a majority of their time eating, feeding mainly on krill. They can cover nearly 3,000 miles (4,800 km) of open ocean in less than two months’ time. This population is growing an estimated 7% per year, but is still greatly diminished from the estimated 15,000 to 20,000 in the days before the whaling ban.
In 1966 the International Whaling Commission (IWC) put them in a protected status worldwide, outlawing whaling, but large illegal kills continued into the 1970s. Currently humpbacks are thought to number about 30,000-40,000 worldwide, which is approximately 30-35 percent of their pre-whaling population.
Compared to other whales, the humpback whale has extremely long flippers which reach up to 30 percent of its length of up to 40 feet (12 m). At their full grown length they can reach up to 55 feet long, and weighs about one ton for every square foot. The whale appears dark from the top while its flippers and tail, the sides and underside appear partially white and are noticeable when they are beginning dive as are their small dorsal fins. These white markings on their flukes are completely unique, each working as a personal fingerprint that scientists use to identify them. These whales are air breathers, rising to the surface every thirty or so minutes. Their exhale can rise up to 15 feet into the air, clocking at a speed of 300 mph(the human sneeze at its fastest is about 100 mph).
When born, calfs are generally 10 to 15 feet long. They feed off their mothers milk, which is produced and fed to their calfs through mammary gland slits. The calf is able to roll its tongue into a tube and siphon in the milk that is ejected into the water. Occasionally pods of dolphins are found trailing mothers and their calves, and it has been speculated that they are consuming be leftover milk that the calf does not eat.
All efforts to attach tracking devices to these whales have failed because of their constant movement. These whales are known for “breaching”, in which they throw their body out of the water. Scientists have only been able to speculate as to why they do this, theories include using the motion to knock barnacles off, show of dominance, mark personal space etc. There is generally a lot action when there are groupings of males, anywhere from two to ten whales, that come together in what’s known as a competition pod. In these groupings the males are showing off and sometimes fighting over the position of being a females escort for the season. Many times the whales will use their pectoral fins and flukes to slam each other, leavening bruises and cuts from the barnacles attached to their skin.
Male humpback whales produce vocalizations described as “songs” over 10-20 minute periods. Whales in different areas of the world sing different songs, but those in the same area sing the same song. A song can be repeated for hours. They change slightly from year to year. The whales engage in many other interesting behaviors that can be observed from shore.