Humpback Whales in Playas del Coco

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This time of the year is always great for diving, expectations are high, as the season is known for the big stuff like humpback whales. They travel through the water of Costa Rica and many people visit Costa Rica during their vacation to see the humpback whale.  There have been a few sightings of Humpbacks in Coco Bay already this year, so lets have a look at some interesting insights into their lives.

Common Name:  The Humpback Whale

Type:  Mammal

Family:  Balaenopteridae

Range:   The Humpback whales are available in a number of locations like Mediterranean and Great Barrier Reef.  It is found in almost all around the world; these whales usually migrate up to 16000 miles (25,000 kilometers) each year. Humpbacks Whale feed only during summer, in polar waters, and migrates to tropical or subtropical waters to breed and give birth in the winter. During the winter, humpbacks fast and live off their fat reserves.

Size: Humpback whales can get a length from 48 to 62.5 feet 52 feet (14.6 to 19 m).  The females are slightly bigger than males. They have four-chambered heart.

The humpback whale can easily be identified by its solid body with an obvious hump and black dorsal coloring. The head and lower jaw are roofed with knobs called tubercles. They are actually hair follicles, and are special characteristic of the species. The fluked tail, which it lifts above the water level in some diving sequences, has wavy trailing edges. The tail fin is of black and white color and large in size. The pectoral fins are of unique patterns, which make individual whales identifiable. Several hypotheses explain the humpback’s pectoral fins.whalae tail

Weight:  They are weighing 30-50 tons.

Diet:  Humpback whales are Omnivore like all other baleen whales. They are seasonal feeders and filter feed Krill, plankton, small fishes like mackerel, herring, and capelin from the water. They are gulpers (not skimmers); filter feeders that alternatively swim and gulp a mouthful of fish or plankton. An average-sized humpback whale can eat 2000-2500 kg of krill, plankton and small fish every day during the feeding season in cold waters. They eat two times in a day.

Average life span: The average lifespan of Humpback whales have a life expectancy of 45-50 years.

Habitat:   Humpback whales reside at the surface of the ocean, both in the Open Ocean and shallow coastline waters. They prefer shallow waters, when they are not migrating. They migrate from warm tropical waters where they breed and calve to arctic waters where they eat. There are 3 different populations of humpback Whales, those living in the North Atlantic Ocean, those in the North Pacific Ocean, and those roaming the oceans of the Southern Hemisphere.

Breeding/Reproduction:  Humpback whale breeding occurs mostly in the winter to early spring while near the surface and in warm, tropical waters. The gestation period is about 11-12 months and the calf is born tail first (this is normal for cetaceans) and near the surface in warm shallow waters. The newborn automatically swims to the surface within 10 seconds for its first breath; helped by its mother through her flippers. The baby whale can swim within 30 minutes of its birth. The calf is about 14 feet long and weighs about 2.3 tons. Twins are very rare. The baby is nurtured with its mother’s milk and is weaned in about 11 months. The mother and calf may stay together for a year or longer. Calves drink about 50 kg of milk every day. They reach puberty at the age of 4-7 years, and maturity after 15 years. A calf is born to a female every 1-3 years.

The Humpback Whales have two hundred seventy to four hundred darkly colored baleen plates on both side of the mouth. The plates measure from approximately 18 inches (46 cm) in the front to approximately 3 feet (0.91 m) long in the backside, behind the hinge. Ventral grooves run from the lower jaw to the umbilicus. It is about halfway along the bottom of the whale. These grooves are less frequent (usually 16–20) and as a result more prominent than in other rorquals. Male whales produce a complex noise, which lasts for 10 to 20 minutes and is repeated for many hours at a time. The purpose of the noise is not yet clear, but it appears to have a role in mating.

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Like other large whales, the Humpback Whale was and is also a common target for the whaling business. Because of over-hunting, the population of humpback whales fell by an estimated 90% before a whaling moratorium was introduced in 1966. Stocks have since partially recovered; however, embarrassment in fishing gear, collisions with ships, and noise contamination also remain concern. There are at least 80,000 humpback whales all over the world. This species has to be saved to save the environment equilibrium. Different steps have already been taken by the relevant authority.

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