HISTORY AND GENERAL INFORMATION ON THE HUMPBACK WHALE
Below, we’ve compiled some generally accepted information about Humpback whales. Of course, we have developed our own understanding of these amazing, wonderful creatures over the years which we will be more than happy to share with you while onboard. But, just in case you have never read anything about our friends, the Humpbacks, you may find the following information helpful.
No one knows exactly when Humpback whales first began wintering in the warm, shallow waters around the Hawaiian Islands. Reports from whalers document the appearance of these majestic giants in the 1840’s, but little written evidence substantiates an earlier presence.
The North Pacific Humpback whales that you see on a Hawaii whale watching trip spend the summer in temperate waters from the Aleutian Islands of Alaska to the Farallon Islands off the coast of central California. During the colder winter months, November to May, the majority of the North Pacific stock is found in the warm waters of Hawaii where they breed, calve, and nurse their young. The remaining Humpback whales are found off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, and throughout the islands south of Japan. In the South Pacific, Humpbacks feed near Antarctica in the austral summer, November to May, and spend the austral winter, June to October, breeding off east Australia and South Pacific Islands. Consequently, researchers believe northern and southern stocks do not intermingle.
Humpback whales are not fast swimmers. While they can attain speeds of 20 mph for brief periods, they average three to six mph – and you will see this behavior out on one of our whale watching trips. How long it takes to travel the more than 3,500 miles between the feeding and breeding areas is not known. Timing of the migratory cycle ensures that pregnant females and mothers with newborn calves spend the majority of their time in the relatively warm waters of Hawaii.
Some migration of individual Humpback whales between breeding areas has been discovered. Whales photographed in Hawaii one year have been observed in Mexico and south of Japan in other years. One Humpback whale was observed in both Mexico and Hawaii during the same winter!
Scientists believe that whales are intelligent animals. An anatomical feature that scientists correlate with intelligence is the degree of folding of the upper surface of the whale’s brain, the area known as the cerebral cortex. This folding increases the surface area of the brain and is found in other intelligent animals, such as elephants and dogs. Whale brains generally show as much or more folding of the cerebral cortex as is seen in humans.
Complex behavior may reveal more about whale intelligence than brain structure. Some whales in captivity exhibit extensive learning and problem-solving skills. Dolphin curiosity and their often-eager interactions with humans also suggest a high level of intelligence.
Perhaps the most intriguing indication of whale intelligence came with the discovery in the 1970s of whale singing, most notably in Humpbacks. Humpback songs, which may last more than 20 minutes, consist of a series of phrases or sequences. All of the singing whales of a particular migrating group sing very nearly the same song. The songs change progressively from year to year, resulting in entirely new songs after four or five years. Singing most commonly occurs in the winter mating grounds, suggesting that it may be part of a mating ritual. Scientists acknowledge that they are still far from accurately measuring, or even knowing how to measure, the intelligence of whales.