Wednesday, July 1, 2009
And here comes Migaloo!
“Consider the whale: It never gets into trouble until it comes up and starts spouting.”
It's that time of year again ~ the humpbacks are migrating north to warmer tropical waters to mate & breed. And each year the boats go out with loads of tourists because Humpbacks are the whales to see. They're the acrobatic clowns of the whale family, breaching with twists & turns, slapping the water with their fins, whacking it with their tails & making a spectacular array of sounds with a recognizable sequence.
Hunted to the point of extinction a whaling moratorium in 1966 has seen a partial recovery in numbers. This is good news because Humpbacks are pretty interesting. They are the noisiest & most imaginative of whales, the males singing long, eerie, complex songs that repeat for hours. The songs were originally thought to be part of the mating ritual, which at least makes sense, but seeing all the songs ever attracted were other males scientists have had to reconsider this theory & have no other really good ideas. Science seems to have to do this a lot.
Humpbacks are baleen whales slurping their krill & plankton through their baleen along with 500 gallons of water. The baleen acts as a sieve & the whales can open their mouths wider than 90 degrees, which is pretty impressive! They eat twice a day consuming somewhere between 2000 & 9000 pounds of krill but can't swallow anything larger than a baseball, so whatever the big fish was that swallowed Jonah it is unlikely to have been a Humpback whale! Actually the only whale anatomically capable of swallowing something as large as a human is the Sperm whale.
These guys invented the *bubble feed* where the pod forms a 10 ~ 100 foot circle 50 feet below the surface then swims in a spiral while blowing bubbles. The bubbles force food to the surface in a concentrated mass. Given each whale has two lungs each the size of a small car that's some bubbles!
Humpback pods are fairly loose & stagger their migration over a 5 month period. As always the young are the most vulnerable to predators ~ sharks & orcas. Their risk is minimised by riding in their mother's slipstream so that they can keep up with the adults with 75% less effort. Smart bubs.
So even without Migaloo Humpback whales are pretty amazing. Migaloo is the cherry on top. He, [someone, naturally, found out his sex] is a rare albino whale & quite the easiest identifiable whale of all those that regularly travel along Australia's eastern seaboard. What's more humpbacks prefer shallow water so hug the coastline meaning any stray tourist stands a good chance of spotting Migaloo. The media tracks his progress & while, on the whole, the whales have grown comfortable with tourist vessels there is a restriction on getting closer than 500m to Migaloo because of the sheer numbers trailing him.
Migaloo has been a part of our lives since 1991 when he was first spotted on the annual migration. His name, ironically, means *white fella* in one of the Aboriginal dialects. As Humpback whales generally live 45 ~ 50 years Migaloo should be around for another few decades but sadly he is already showing signs of skin cancers & his days may already be numbered.