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What’s With Humpback Whales?

Humpback whales are a fascinating species. These winged whales are massive and majestic, but much of their lives, mannerisms, and habits are a mystery. Hakai Magazine takes a ride with humpback researcher Jackie Hildering to dive deeper on these majestic animals: 

There it is. Or he, or she; gender indeterminate. Hildering, a humpback whale researcher, angles the boat toward the humpback and throttles the engine way back. She’s just close enough to try—with a telephoto lens—to identify this individual by its unique tail flukes. Humpbacks are fairly slow swimmers, but this one’s moving quickly enough to make her job hard. A mobbing is going down. A half-dozen or so Pacific white-sided dolphins are swarming the whale Hildering will later identify from photographs as an adult named Squall.
“Dolphins can be mystical and complete jerks—both things are true,” says Hildering, cofounder and director of education and communication at the Marine Education and Research Society (MERS), a Port McNeill–based nonprofit studying humpback and minke whales. These dolphins are potentially “learning by provocation,” as Hildering puts it. They’re clearly having a ball. Not so the humpback. This “most gamesome and light-hearted of all the whales,” as Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, described the humpback, must be feeling mighty put upon. The whale flexes its body, trying to shake off the harassers, and rolls, exposing one of those great pectoral fins, which can be as long as one-third of its body length, and which gives the humpback its scientific genus, Megaptera, or “large-winged.” Squall slaps it down, apparently in self-defense, like a sweet-natured grandmother whacking a mugger with her umbrella.



image via Hakai Magazine


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