Thursday, September 16, 2010

Beached Humpback Whale [Maitland Beach]

This is a Humpback Whale; seen them jumping clear out of the water in Algoa Bay, Kalk Bay and off the West Coast. I first thought this was a Southern Right whale, but they're fairly rare, and these pectoral fins are a lot longer than those of the Southern Right. In fact proportionally these are the longest pectoral fins of any cetacean. The theory is that the long fins help with temperature control, as these whales are found in both tropical and polar seas.

Humpbacks migrate up to 25 000 kilometres a year, in other words, they really get around. They basically eat in summer [at the Poles] then swim like hell to get to the other side of the world and feed at the opposite polar ice cap [during that hemisphere's summer]. On the way they calf in tropical waters sometimes in consecutive years [gestation is just under a year], and the mother has to keep the baby whale going on her own reserves.

Another interesting aspect about these creatures is whale song.  Only the male whales sing.

Interestingly there is very little social structure, which means these whales mostly move by themselves.  They do engage in co-operative feeding, using a mixture of song and bubble blowing to create a sort've bubble net.  This whale is the smartest feeder of all whales, using a variety of techniques and strategies. Humpback calves in Hawaiian waters have sometimes been seen to play with bottlenose dolphin calves.

A second or less after this photo was taken a fast moving wave about 3 feet deep hit me hard, wetting all of my jeans and my back right up to the shoulder level. Not sure how I didn't fall over or drop my camera. The whale washed up at about the same time the Navy arrived [above photograph taken the same day as the others] to do exercises. Coincidence?

The eye is closed, and there seems to be some damage around the eye cavity.

The whale is actually lying on his back.

They have few natural enemies; one is the Killer Whale, which sometimes attack calves. Once hunted to the verge of extinction, there are about 80 000 Humpback Whales in the world today. Correction: 79 999.

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