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Oahu Whale Watching, Tours - Visitor Information
Whales are found in all the oceans of the world. They are members of the Cetacea order of marine mammals, that includes Dolphins and Porpoises. Toothed Whales (Odontoceti) are predators that eat a variety of marine wildlife. Baleen Whales (Mysticeti) have a filter called a baleen instead of teeth. They use the baleen as a sieve to filter tiny food particles from the sea.
• Humpback Whales are Baleen Whales
• The largest baleen whale is the blue whale. It is said that blue whales are the largest creatures - bigger than anything living or extinct.
• Baleen whales use their flippers to steer and their flukes (tails) to stop.
• Of the larger whales Blue, Fin and Sei Whales, the fastest can swim up to 18.6 miles per hour.
• During feeding season, larger baleen whales eat approximately 4 percent of their body size!
• All whales shed. The Beluga whale, for example, sheds when it migrates to the North Pole. By rubbing against rocks, its old, yellowed skin
comes off in large sheets, revealing new white skin underneath.
• Whales are Flexible. Because water, not the whale's skeleton, supports its body, whale bones are light, flexible and spongy. (This is also
why whales can grow so large.) Fat and oil in the bones enhance floating.
• Whales have been known to live as long as 100 years.
• Whales don't actually sleep; they take catnaps. While one half of the brain is sleeping, the other signals it to come to the surface to breathe and keeps it alert to predators.
• Much like human fingerprints, the markings on each whale's tail are unique. This helps researchers identify and study them.
• Baleen whales consume between 2000 and 9000 pounds of fish and krill a day! They do not feed all year round, however, but only during half of the year when they are in the cold, nutrient-rich waters of their summer feeding grounds.
Humpbacks are baleen whales, which means they feed by straining their food from seawater through a series of plates on their upper jaws. They strain out plankton and very small crustaceans called krill from the water.
Humpback whales take their name from their habit of exposing a large central area of their backs when diving, as they do repeatedly when swimming along near the water surface.
Humpbacks are also known for their complex underwater vocalisations or whale songs.
Humpback whales make one of the longest migrations of any mammal, migrating as far as 5,000 miles Alaskan summer feeding areas and Hawaii's breeding grounds.
Humpback whales undergo prolonged periods of fasting and have completely separated feeding from breeding and calving activities during the winter.
Humpbacks have a very rough and ragged appearance once you get up close, with many knobs and lumps on their skin, liberally interspersed with barnacles.
Other outstanding features of the Humpbacks' appearance are their huge pectoral fins which can be up to a third the length of their entire body, and their huge tail flukes. These body-parts are featured in some of the most interesting of whale behaviors: pectoral fin extension, pec slapping, and tail slapping.
Humpbacks' large, winglike flippers can extend to 14 feet. Very energetic, they often leap clear of the water, spin, or slap their fluke or flipper on the water's surface.
Humpbacks are also known to be curious, and are renowned for swimming up really close to whale watching boats where they poke their heads out of the water to get a good look at the humans.
Humpback whales begin arriving in Hawaiian waters during November, with peak whale watching season extending from December through April, when the whales once again say goodbye to Hawaii and return to their summer homes to feed and grow in Alaskan waters.
Approximately 25% of what Humpbacks eat during the summer is stored in the form of fat to provide extra energy and insulation during their winter fast when they migrate to warmer waters.
Humpback whales do not eat during the time spent in Hawaiian seas, spending the entire winter resting, mating and giving birth to a new generation.
Humpback whales sometimes blow "bubble nets" to help them feed. This is done when the whale dives down and then swims in a spiral while releasing air from the blowholes. Doing this creates bubbles which form a tubular net. The whale gets in the center of the bubble to eat the trapped prey. Several Humpbacks can come up through the bubble net at one time to feed.
At the time that hunting of the Humpbacks finally ceased in the 1960s, there were as few as 500 left in existence. The Humpbacks now boast a population of around 80,000 worldwide.
• Humpback whales are the fifth largest animal on the planet!
• Female Humpback whales give birth only once every two to three years, so each calf born is a treasure.
• Humpbacks females are 50- to 55-foot long, dark-colored with distinctive bumps on their noses.
• Humpbacks' pectoral flippers are unusually long, nearly a third of their body length.
• Adult Humpbacks weigh up to 40-50 tons
• Adult Humpback males are 30 to 45 feet in length
• An adult Humpback will eat up to a ton of krill per day
• Humpback calves weigh around one ton
• Humpbacks calves consume 600 litres of milk per day
• Along the underside of Humpback's body they have up to 22 throat pleats running from their chins to their navel.
• Hawaii's Humpbacks travel 3,000 to 5,000 miles from their northern Pacific Ocean feeding grounds to reach their tropical winter home.
Humpback Whale Behavior
Humpbacks are the most acrobatic of all of the great whales displaying a wide variety of leaping, rolling and breaching movements. Adult Humpbacks have been seen to breach 20-30 times in succession, averaging only 10 seconds between breachings. During their annual sojourn here, these whales exhibit many interesting and acrobatic behaviors that can easily be seen and enjoyed from the numerous whale watch tours available throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Here is a list of Humpback whale behaviors and their definitions.
The Blow: The first sign that whales are around is usually the blow. A Humpback breathes through the blow hole on top of its head. When it expels its breath, the resulting burst of air and water vapor can be seen for as far away as two kilometres on a clear day. The breath rushes out at speeds up to 450 kph and can go up to a height of 5 metres. It has a fishy smell and has sufficient oil content to put an unpleasant smear of oil on a camera lens if a photographer gets too close.
Breaching: A much more spectacular way of announcing its presence is for a whale to breach. With 2 or 3 beats of its huge tail the creature hurls itself up through the surface sometimes clearing the water completely, and then falls on its back with a tremendous splash. Breaching is thought to communicate position to others. The splash can be heard for several kilometres.
Calves: A Humpback calf normally swims along in close company with its mother
Head Lunge: When a whale breaks the surface and falls forward instead of backward the action is called a head lunge.
Spy Hop: Humpbacks are curious, and often pop their head up above the waterline to look around. The creature raises its head vertically from the water until the eyes are exposed, maintains that position for a short period of time and then lowers its head back into the water. This common behavior is thought to be used mainly for orientating themselves with the shoreline during migration.
Pectoral Fin Extension: Humpbacks are often seen waving their huge oar-like fins above the water. The creature lies on the surface and lifts one or both of its pectoral fins up out of the water depending on body position. Once extended, the fins can be waved about
Tail Extension: Sometimes Humpbacks are seen with their tail flukes extended above the water for up to 15 minutes at a time. This behavior is rare but could be to do with feeding, as a calf is often seen bobbing around its mother's tail at this time.
Tail Slapping: Whales like to lift their huge tails high above the water and slap them down on the surface making a tremendous splash. This can be heard for great distances by others and is probably associated with marking position. Because of the formidable power of the tail, this behavior should be interpreted as aggressive and the creature should be given plenty of room.
Peduncle Slap: The peduncle is the muscular part of the body nearest to the tail flukes. It is used in a variation of the tail slap where the tail is slapped in a sideways movement like a massive karate-chop. This movement is a sure sign that the creature could become aggressive.
Tail Cocking: Tail cocking is another sign of aggression that is used when stressed. An aggressor can cock its tail up in the air and then bring it down heavily on an opponent in a disagreement over territory. Humans should keep well clear
Tail Slash and Tail Swish: Two further movements of the tail involve slashing from side to side in the water and swishing on the surface to create turbulence. Both these activities are also associated with aggression. Crews of whale watching boats watch for these behaviors as signs to move away.
Pectoral Stroking: Pectoral fins are the equivalent of human hands. They are frequently used to stroke the body of another of the same species, probably during courtship and mating. Mothers and calves also stroke one another as a display of closeness
Pec Slapping: The Humpback has the largest pectoral fins of any of the great whales. The fins alone can weigh up to several tonnes! When brought down onto the water from the extended position they create a forceful splash which can be heard from quite a distance, both above and below the surface. Pec slapping is a common behavior among Humpbacks, thought to be used as a form of communication.