Humpback Whales are one of the most studied of all Whale species. They are easily recognised by their characteristic black and white patterns, particularly on the underside of their tails. They also have distinctive knobby protuberances on their heads and tails. They are well known throughout Australia as one of the most commonly sought after by Whale watching enthusiasts and tourists. One of the main reasons for this is because of their tendency to migrate close to the coastline, making them well suitable for Whale watching tours in places such as Jervis Bay. Another reason is because of their regular ability to jump out of the water, known as breaching. Breaching can be an absolutely spectacular site to behold and can leave people lost for words.
The Humpback Whale is part of the Baleen family of Whales. The actual name is derived from the large hump that is found under their dorsal fins, this hump is particularly noticeable when the whale is diving down in the water from the surface, resulting in it arching it’s body. Humpback Whales grow to a length of between 15 to 18 meters and can weigh up to an astonishing 40 tonnes.
The Humpback will spend its summer in the cold waters of the Antarctic, feeding on the abundant krill, which is a prawn like creature, before travelling north during the Winter months to breed. Humpbacks also feed on small schooling fish such as Mackeral. They feed by repeated open their enormous mouths in a ‘lunging’ action into the schools of krill and fish. During these ‘lunges’ the large mouthful of water gets expelled through the ‘baleen plates’, trapping the prey inside their mouths to be swallowed. Humpback Whales will often feed in large numbers, in what is believed to be a co-operative feeding strategy designed to maximise food caught.
The best time to see these Whales off the coast of Sydney and Jervis Bay is in June, July and August, as they are heading north to the warmer waters off the Southern end of the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland in order to breed and give birth. Humpback Whales do not reach sexual maturity until they are at least seven years old. Females give birth to a single calf after a gestation period of approximately 12 months. The calf will stay with the mother for a further 12 months, and after this period will leave the mother and fend for itself.
Humpback Whales were hunted to near extinction during the height of the Whaling era in the 1960’s. These magnificent creatures were hunted for their valuable meat and oil products and Whaling stations were prolific along the Australian East Coast. Thankfully people have since realised the damage they were doing to Whale populations and the Humpback Whale has been protected in the Southern Hemisphere since 1963 and a worldwide moratorium on Whaling was declared in 1986. In Australia the Humpback Whale population is making a slow recovery but are still considered vulnerable due to their slow reproduction rate.