A Whale Of A Time
Friday, August 12th, 2022 had started like any normal day interning on the American Star for the Cape May Whale Watch and Research Center. I prepared the equipment for a day researching Cape May’s marine life. I had no idea that this day would end up being one of my favorite days on the boat. During the morning trip that day, there was a call on the VHF radio during a dolphin sighting that the Cape May-Lewes Ferry had sighted a humpback whale breaching in Delaware Bay between Cape May, New Jersey, and Delaware. We finished that dolphin sighting, and I remember jumping up and down overcome with joy! The humpback whale was in fact breaching, by the end of the sighting this whale had breached over 20 times! I was so excited that I got to witness this whale in its natural habitat and the passengers got to see it as well. People say that you are lucky to see one whale breach in your lifetime, but I got to see 20! Seeing this whale breach was amazing, but it led me to question: why do humpback whales breach?
The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is a marine mammal that can grow up to about 48 to 63 feet and can weigh about 40 tons. These whales are black with different white markings on their pectoral fins, bellies, and on their flukes. Also, they are known for the “hump” on their back by their dorsal fin. They are part of the Phylum Chordata, Class Mammalia, Class Cetacea, and Family Balaenopteridae (NOAA 2022). They can be found in any ocean in the world and are normally spotted in Cape May, New Jersey during their migration. humpback whales eat krill and small fish. When spotting these whales in the wild they can exhibit a variety of behaviors. Some of these behaviors could be fluking, logging, breaching, pectoral fin slapping, spy hopping, tail slapping, lunging, or spouting. Scientists think that humpback whales breach and slap their fins/flukes on the surface of the water to communicate with other whales. The slapping creates a sound that is used to send a message to other whales, and the larger splashes are used to send a sound to a greater distance. Sound travels faster in the water than it does on land. A whale might breach for other reasons such as removing parasites, aiding in digestion, trying to capture food, communicating with other whales, marine species, and humans, as well as just for fun. In reality, no one really knows why they breach or why they do any of these listed behaviors (Frey 2020). Humpback whales are known for their acrobatics, so next time you see one of these marvelous creatures you should enjoy this amazing once in a lifetime experience!
-Mackenzie Briggs, Stockton University ’24
Intern at Cape May Whale Watch and Research Center
NOAA Fisheries. (2022). Humpback Whale. Silver Spring, Maryland. NOAA. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/humpback-whale
Frey, M. (2020). Why Do Humpback Whales Breach? Blog, Ocean Currents. Ocean Conservancy. https://oceanconservancy.org/blog/2020/04/01/humpback-whales-breach/#:~:text=Scientists%20suspect%20humpback%20whales%20are,for%20sending%20messages%20long%2Ddistances.