Bang around the ocean for enough decades and a person is bound to have some whale encounters and gain some fascinating insights.
I’ve had encounters that were funny, awe-inspiring and amazing, and some that were downright scary (such as a time a humpback breached right in front of my charter boat when I was running throttle forward at 30 knots).
I recently reviewed a message from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that contained some fun facts about whales. Some of the whales referenced are from our neck of the woods and others live elsewhere, but even so, whale facts are fun. Allow me to share:
Male humpback whales found in U.S. waters sing complex songs in winter breeding areas in waters near Hawaii, in the Caribbean, and elsewhere that can last up to 20 minutes and be heard miles away.
The blue whale is the largest animal that ever lived and can grow to 90 or more feet and weigh as much as 24 elephants. That’s more than 330,000 pounds (150,000 kg).
Some species of whales are among the longest-lived mammals. Scientists estimate bowhead whales (a baleen whale found in the Arctic) can live for more than 200 years, and killer whales (a toothed whale found in various habitats worldwide) can live for more than 100 years.
Killer whales are highly social and often travel in groups that are matrifocal — a family unit focused or centered on the mother. Learn more about the Southern Resident killer whale, a NOAA Fisheries Species in the Spotlight.
Beluga whales have flexible necks, allowing them to move their heads. Their complex communication repertoire of whistles, clicks and chirps has prompted the nickname “canaries of the sea.”
Gray whales make one of the longest annual migrations of any mammal: they travel about 10,000 miles (16,000 km) round trip!
North Atlantic right whales gather small organisms near the water surface, straining seawater with their long baleen plates. The whales’ surface-feeding behavior and buoyancy make them vulnerable to collisions.
Sperm whales were almost driven to extinction by commercial whalers who sought the whales’ blubber and the unique oil derived from the “spermaceti organ” found in their massive heads. The spermaceti organ is a key part of their echolocation system.
In 2014, a Cuvier’s beaked whale made the deepest and longest dive ever recorded for a cetacean when it reached a depth of 1.9 miles (2,992 m) and stayed submerged for more than two hours.
I love whale facts. That last one shivers me timbers. I can’t imagine a dive of almost two miles and lasting two hours. Just think, going down 33 feet is the equivalent of one atmosphere. The pressures at two miles deep are heavy, when measured per square inch.
A Cuvier’s beaked whale has to be one very tough and resilient critter. I hope the meal was worth the trouble.
— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.