Meet Giant Singers of the Seas: Humpback Whales

Photo Credit to Crew Member Tylor Robison

The Lady Washington has had amazing companions the past weeks in Moss Landing: humpback whales, California sea lions, and swarms of fish. These three appearances are closely linked! Those fish are a feast for both sea lions and humpback whales. Can you believe, though, that fish are among the largest food the 60ft-long humpback whales eat? Most of their food, such as shrimp-like krill and plankton, is much, much smaller. Most individual plankton can’t even be seen by the human eye without a microscope! It takes a lot of krill and plankton to feed a humpback whale.

DCIM103MEDIADJI_0042.JPGHumpback whales are known for their beautiful songs, which travel through the ocean water for long distances. They also are known for their spectacular ‘breaching’ in which their powerful fins propel their enormous bodies out of the water before they come back down with a truly epic SPLASH.

Why do humpbacks sing and breach? Scientists aren’t sure. One hypothesis is that singing is a form of communication. Another is that it’s part of attracting a mate. It could be a little of both! A hypothesis about breaching is that is an athletic way for a whale to clean small pests from its skin. It could also be simply for fun!

While we don’t know the full reasons for the humpback whale’s behaviors or the full extent of their intelligence, what we do know is that they are smart! Groups of humpback whales will work together, each whale taking a specific strategic role, to disorient schools of fish by blowing bubbles around and herding the fish, creating turbulence and an atmosphere of ‘easy pickings’ for the hunting whales. Whales and dolphins of many types are also capable of learning as individuals and then passing their new information on to their young, an ability that is rare amongst the species of Earth.

Click to learn more about humpback whales from the National Geographic Society!

Curious about California sea lions, krill or plankton? Stay tuned for upcoming Sea of Life posts. They’re coming at you every Tuesday!