Subject: Humpback whale interview

Caroline DeLong (
Mon, 03 May 1999 10:52:30 -1000

>	I am doing a project on Marine Biology and I chose Baleen Whales.  The
>project is to do a magazine about Marine Biology.  My feature article is
>about Humpback whales and I need an interveiw to get a good grade.  I was
>wondering if you could ansewr some Humpback or Baleen whale questions or
>maybe some one else could help but I don't know much and I only have boring
>questions.  Please help me.  My e-mail is  Please get back to
>me soon.  Or tell me someone else that can answer Humpback whale qusetions.
>			Thanks,
>				Kelsi

Dear Kelsi,

I already sent you the answers to your questions from my perspective
(working with bottlenose dolphins).  I asked my colleague Alison Craig, who
works with humpback whales, to answer your questions as well. Here are her

> What kinds of whales do you research/study??
	Humpback whales

> What is a typical day of watching whales?
	Humpbacks come to Hawaii to breed in the winter, so we only
observe them between January and April of each year.  We get out of bed by
6.45 am and then go to either our shore station or our research boat.
Because humpback whales prefer shallower waters, we can do a lot of
research from shore.  We use an instrument called a theodolite to plot
their locations and track their movements, and we can study their
behaviour in detail through binoculars.  On the research boat, we take
photographs of their tail flukes because each humpback whale has unique
flukes, and we can tell them apart by differences in colour, notches, and
scars.  We use this information to learn about many things including
individual life histories, calving rates, migration, and social
associations.  We also film them underwater to learn more about their
behaviour.  We also record vocalizations with an underwater microphone
called a hydrophone.  We work all day without a break, and only stop about
6pm when it is getting dark.  Then we go back to the house and work all
evening, writing logs about what we have seen.  It is very hard work!  For
the other eight months of the year we are either matching fluke
photographs or working on computers to analyse data.

> Are these whales hunted?
	Humpback whales were given world-wide protection from large-scale
commercial whaling in 1966.  However, some small countries (e.g. St.
Vincent in the Caribbean) are still allowed to kill one or two each year
for subsistence purposes.

> How does the future look for whales?
	Humpback whales were hunted heavily before 1966, and we estimate
that their population was reduced to just 10% of original levels.
However, since their protection in 1966 their population is increasing.
For example, here in Hawaii we think that the number of whales we see each
winter has roughly trebled in the last 20 years or so.  I think the future
looks good for humpbacks, but it is not the same for all whales in
American waters.  There are only about 300 right whales left off the east
coast of the United States, and it seems as if they are doomed to
extinction in the North Atlantic.

> Where do they migrate?
	Humpback whales spend the winter in tropical breeding grounds and
the summer in colder feeding areas.  If you ever go to Alaska (North
Pacific) or the Gulf of Maine (North Atlantic) in the summer, you will
have the chance to see lots of humpback whales feeding on krill and small
schooling fish.  In the winter, they migrate to tropical waters like
Hawaii (North Pacific) or the West Indies (North Atlantic).  When they are
in tropical waters they do not feed at all, but they try to find mates and
the females give birth to the calves they conceived the previous year.
> Anything about mating rituals?
	Although there are many scientists studying humpback whales, none
of us has ever seen them mate!  However, we do see some interesting
behaviours.  The males compete for access to the females, so sometimes we
will see as many as 12 males in a pod (that is what we call a group of
whales) with one female.  The males will perform various aggressive
displays, and will sometimes even physically strike each other in their
attempts to be with the female.

> Why, when, and how do they sing ?
	Because only males sing, and singing occurs primarily in the
winter breeding season, we assume that it is related to their mating
system.  In many different species (e.g. birds, insect, frogs), singing is
a display by males to attract a mate and also to announce their territory
to other males.  It may well have the same function in humpbacks.  We do
know that singing males tend to be spaced quite far apart, but if song
were an advertisement to attract females, we'd expect to see females
approach singers more often than we do.  In fact, quite often males (not
singing) approach singing males, and they seem to then have a brief
dispute!  When males sing, no air escapes from the blowhole, so it seems
that they create the song by recycling air.

Good luck with your project,

Caroline DeLong
Marine Mammal Research Program 
Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology
P.O. Box 1106
Kailua, HI  96734