Thursday, August 05, 2010

Gentle Giants

One thing we do frequently while on Cape Cod is go whale watching. I've probably been about six times. We've seen whales each time, sometimes more than others but we've never been disappointed. We went on the Portuguese Princess this past July and it seemed like it might be our first dud of a trip. For the longest time we saw nothing.
Suddenly there she blows!

We saw a mother humpback and her calf swimming along side of the boat. The naturalist on board knew the calf was about 6 months old. Females are pregnant for 11-12 months and give birth in January. At birth the calf is 10-20 feet long and weighs 1-2 tons depending on the size of the mother. Mom provides a thick rich 45%-60% fat milk the consistency of yogurt for her calf and it drinks about 100-130 gallons per day. All that milk causes the calf to put on 100 - 200 pounds a day. Mom and baby stay together until she returns to the breeding grounds but some will follow mom. The males play no role in parenting.

When a whale dives down it leaves a smooth spot on the water surface called a footprint. Humpbacks are mammals and breathe air but can dive for 6-7 minutes and for deep dives be down for 15-30 minutes at a time.

You can tell when the whale is diving, the last thing you see is the fluke (tail) in the air. Researchers can tell different whales apart from each other by the markings on their flukes. The naturalist was able to identify 5 of the 12 whales we saw. There's a data base to check so they can be identified wherever they swim. Male humpbacks grow to 40-48 feet, females grow larger 45-50 feet. Both sexes weigh anywhere between 25-40 tons at maturity and eat one and a half tons of food a day. Humpbacks are baleen whales as they have no teeth unlike the sperm whale who has a mouthful. Male humpback whales sing to attract females for mating.
Want to hear some whale songs? Click here

Our whale watching trip left from Provincetown out on the tip of Cape Cod and headed out to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary , an underwater plateau in the Gulf of Maine. This is a popular feeding ground for whales who need to stock up their blubber for their migration trip to warmer waters in the fall.

These videos were taken by my son Cameron on his cell phone. This is three humpback whales that were swimming along the boat when they turned and swam toward us. I'd be lying if I didn't think of that famous quote, "we're gonna need a bigger boat". If you listen carefully you'll hear some one's camera beeping because the battery was dead. That would be mine. If you could have read my mind your ears would burn.

Whales are indeed gentle giants. They communicate with each other, live in a society together, are curious and peaceful. Their only real threat is that of man. The humpback whale is endangered.