Archive for the ‘humpback whale’ Category


This humpback whale protected a Weddell seal from killer whales by carrying it on its belly.

By Erik Stockstad

At first it seemed like the usual, deviously clever attack. Several killer whales were trying to catch a Weddell seal that had taken refuge atop a drifting patch of Antarctic ice. The orcas swam alongside each other, creating a wave that knocked the hapless pinniped into the water. Death seemed certain.

Then something amazing happened: A pair of humpback whales turned up. As the panicked seal swam toward them, a lucky wave tossed it onto the chest of the closer, upturned whale. The whale arched its chest out of the water, which kept the seal away from the charging killer whales. And when the seal started to fall off, the whale carefully pushed it back onto its chest with a flipper. Soon after that, the seal scrambled to safety on another ice floe.

“I was shocked,” recalls marine ecologist Robert Pitman, who witnessed the episode in 2009 and described it and another example in Natural History magazine that year. “It looked like they were trying to protect the seal.”

Humpback whales will vigorously defend their own calves when attacked by killer whales, of course. But after analyzing other encounters between the two species, Pitman and his colleagues conclude that humpback whales will also launch preemptive attacks on their predators. Sometimes the intent seemed to be protecting another whale’s calf. But more often, like with the Weddell seal, the humpbacks for some reason helped a different species.

When prey gang up and harass a predator, it’s known as mobbing. A flock of crows, for example, can drive away a hawk by repeatedly dive-bombing. The behavior is also known among fishes, insects, and terrestrial mammals, but it hadn’t been studied in marine mammals. Because of their large size, humpback whales don’t have to worry about many predators. Killer whales are the only species known to attack, and they target small calves. The mothers will try to scare them off with thunderous bellows. If that fails, they defend their young by smacking their massive tails or swinging their 5-meter-long, barnacle-encrusted fins.

To find out whether the seal rescue in Antarctica was unusual behavior for humpbacks, Pitman, who works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Southwest Fisheries Science Center in San Diego, California, posted a request for information on a marine mammal listserv. He received 115 descriptions of encounters, many from commercial whale-watching trips, which sometimes included photos and videos. In 31 cases of mobbing, humpbacks approached killer whales that were already engaged in a fight. They would chase the killer whales, often bellow, and slap their fins and tails. “The humpbacks were definitely on the offense,” Pitman says. He and colleagues published their findings online this week in Marine Mammal Science.

The conclusions have convinced Phillip Clapham, a NOAA marine biologist in Seattle, Washington, who was not involved in the research. “They make a very good case that it’s a proactive response to killer whales,” he says. “I think they’re absolutely right.”

It’s not hard to imagine why humpbacks would rush to the rescue when another humpback whale is under attack. Because they migrate to and from the same breeding grounds where they were born, humpbacks are likely to encounter relatives. So a threatened calf might share some genes with a rescuer, making the apparently altruistic act of saving it somewhat self-interested.

But what about protecting other species? This happened in nearly 90% of attacks where the killer whales’ prey could be identified. “It’s pretty mysterious,” says Trevor Branch, a fisheries scientist at the University of Washington, Seattle, who has studied populations of large whales. “We tend to think of altruism as being reciprocal, but there’s no way these other species would come back and help the humpback whales.”

Pitman suspects that it is inadvertent altruism. The humpbacks might simply rush to the scene of a fight whenever they hear killer whales fighting. “I think they just have a simple rule,” Pitman says. “When you hear a killer whale attack, go break it up.” Clapham adds that the confrontations may teach the killer whales a lesson, making them think twice about messing with humpbacks.

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/07/humpbacks-protect-seals-and-other-animals-killer-whales-why

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A massive humpback whale nearly flattened a pair of kayakers on California’s Central Coast when it launched out of the sea and landed on their boat.

Nearby whale watchers looked on in fright as the creature flipped the couple into the water Saturday near Monterey Bay’s Moss Landing Harbor. A video (posted above)filmed by a Sanctuary Cruises passenger and shared by the company on Facebook shows the whale’s “full 180 degree breach.”

One passenger can be heard asking anxiously, “The kayak! The kayak! Where’s the kayak?” followed by applause when the couple appeared unharmed.

The kayaking company that took the paddlers out that day has halted its whale-watching tours, citing the safety of both its kayakers and the whales.

A full-size humpback whale can weigh more than 40 tons. Sanctuary Cruises captain and co-owner Michael Sack, writing about the encounter on the company’s blog, said it was “one of the more dangerous situations that I’ve seen out here.”

There has been a high number of reported sightings of humpback whales and other marine mammals in the Monterey Bay area in the past couple of years. Saturday’s kayakers, who are tourists from the United Kingdom, were paddling through a large pod of humpback whales when they were knocked underwater. They were less than a mile from shore. Both were wearing life vests, and some other paddlers helped right their boat.

Sean Furey, a guide with Monterey Bay Kayaks who was with the group when it happened, told CNN the couple handled the whole thing “incredibly well.” The company immediately made the decision to suspend its whale-watching tours.

“We’ve talked to some biologists and we feel it’s probably affecting the health of the whales, affecting their ability to feed so we just want to make sure that the whales are safe out there and keep everybody safe here,” Furey told CNN affiliate KSBW-TV.

http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/16/travel/kayakers-nearly-crushed-by-whale-irpt/index.html

When Dutch restorers started to peel away centuries of varnish and grime from ‘View of Scheveningen Sands’ by Hendrick van Anthonissen, left, they discovered that a whale that had been painted over, right.

By M. Alex Johnson

For centuries, art historians have wondered about an otherwise unremarkable seaside painting by the 17th-century Dutch master Hendrick van Anthonissen: Why are clusters of people gathered on the beach and on the nearby cliffs in obviously unpleasant winter weather looking at nothing?

The answer, British art conservators announced Thursday, is that they are looking at an enormous beached whale, which was later painted out of the picture.

When and by whom — and most important, why, since curators say it's evident the whale is supposed to be the focal point of the painting — still aren't known.

The painting, titled "View of Scheveningen Sands," is one of a series of seaside paintings by Anthonissen (1605-56), a lesser master of the Dutch Golden Age.

It had been under restoration at Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge University since early this year, the museum said Thursday, and as varnish and heavily daubed overpaint were painstakingly scraped away over the months, its true subject slowly emerged.

"Sometimes as conservators, while working on a painting, we are lucky enough to make a surprising discovery," Shan Kuang, the postdoctoral student at the Fitzwilliams' Hamilton Kerr Institute who led the project, said in a video the museum published describing the work's restoration.

Kuang said her interest was piqued by the people on the beach who appeared to be intently looking at nothing in particular.

As she slowly removed protective varnish that had badly discolored over more than four centuries, "a figure started appearing standing directly over the horizon line," she said.

That was "extremely unexpected and peculiar," she said,as the figure looked as though he or she were magically hovering several feet over the water.

"We spent a good deal of time speculating about what it could be, and then the fin started appearing," Kuang said.

Eventually the head began to emerge as layers of heavy paint were removed, and it became clear that a whale on the beach had been painted out of the painting, probably well after Anthonissen completed it around 1641.

"At the end of the treatment, the whale had returned as a key component of the composition, just as the artist had intended,” she said.

The museum said the discovery might not be as surprising as it would first seem.

"Contemporary records show many instances of whale beaching on the coastline of the Netherlands in the first half of the 17th century," it said.

Kuang said the crude overpaint, which filled in the sea and shore where the whale had been, could have been added "because the presence of a dead animal was considered offensive" in the 18th or early 19th centuries.

Removing it could have made the painting more marketable at a time in history when paintings were more commonly seen as commodities, not precious works of art, she said.

"View of Scheveningen Sands" is now back on permanent display in Fitzwilliam — whale and all, just as Anthonissen wanted it.

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/whale-discovery-hidden-dutch-masterpiece-n123971

Incredible footage has emerged capturing the moment a humpback whale swam underneath a kayak and almost capsized the kayaker.
Berthold Hinrichs was kayaking in waters near Senja Island in northern Norway when he saw a pod of humpback whales breaching in the water nearby.

His camera shows as the whales swim closer and closer to his kayak. Finally a humpback whale surfaces right next to him.

“[It] did not capsize [the kayak] but me and my camera got wet,” Hinrichs told news.com.au. “Some minutes later it happened again and then I was on the back of the humpback,” he said.

The video shows the moment the whale swims beside him and then directly under his kayak, crashing into it and making Hinrichs’ kayak shake.

“I got a lot of water in my kayak which froze to ice, so I had to return to the harbour,” Hinrichs said.

According to Hinrichs, there were about 30 humpback whales and 50 orcas in Senja bay that day.

Hinrichs is an avid adventurer and nature enthusiast, whose Facebook page ( https://www.facebook.com/berthold.hinrichs#!/berthold.hinrichs ) contains magnificent photos and videos of many up-close encounters with sea creatures.

Humpbacks are a highly migratory species, found in oceans all around the world. There are estimated to be 6000-8000 humpback whales in the North Pacific and about 10,000 in the North Atlantic. Humpback whales are classified as endangered.

http://www.news.com.au/travel/world-travel/amazing-footage-shows-humpback-whale-almost-capsize-kayaker-in-norway/story-e6frfqbr-1226812210586

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Humpback whales are facing new dangers in Hawaiian waters, where more than 10,000 of the cetaceans congregate from December to April to calve and breed. That’s the conclusion of an analysis of historical records of ship strikes on humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the seas around the Hawaiian Islands between 1975 and 2011. In that 36-year period, 68 such strikes were reported, including the one that injured the humpback calf in the photo above. The scientists have not yet been able to quantify the number of whales lethally wounded or killed outright by such hits. Because more than 63% of the collisions involved calves and subadults, the scientists conclude that these younger animals are particularly susceptible to being struck, most likely because they spend more time at the surface to breathe than do adults. Worryingly, the number of strikes has steadily increased over the years, the team reports in the Journal of Cetacean Research and Management—and not because there are more whales. Instead, the increase is apparently due to tourism. The majority of vessels that have collided with whales in Hawaii are small- to medium-sized boats, less than 21.2 meters in length, the scientists say, which happens to be the size of commercial whale-watching vessels. Federal regulations require these boats to remain at least 100 yards distance from the humpbacks. They may be keeping their distance while observing the whales, but not when under way: The majority of collisions occurred when the vessels were travelling at 10 to 19 knots, the team reports—apparently, too fast to avoid colliding with the very animals the skippers and tourists have come out to watch.

http://news.sciencemag.org/plants-animals/2013/12/scienceshot-when-whale-watching-turns-deadly

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The mournful, curiously repetitious yet ever-changing songs of male humpback whales have long puzzled scientists. The tunes are part of the males’ mating displays, but researchers don’t know their exact function, or which males in a population are doing the singing. Now, scientists who’ve been studying the giant marine mammals in Hawaii for almost 40 years report that even sexually immature males join older males in singing, apparently as a way to learn the music and to amplify the song. The beefed-up, all-male choruses may attract more females to the areas where the songsters hang out.

Scientists generally thought that only adult male humpbacks (Megaptera novaeangliae) sing, says Louis Herman, a marine mammal biologist emeritus at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, and the lead author of the new study. “But that’s just because you can’t easily tell which ones are mature and which ones are immature,” he says. “We know that mature males are larger than immature ones, so we had to figure out an unobtrusive way to measure them in the open ocean.”

Herman and his team hit on a technique by looking at 20th century whaling records. Biologists with whaling operations in the Southern Ocean had the opportunity to measure many humpbacks killed during the commercial hunts. They determined, based on the weight of males’ testes, that the whales reached sexual maturity at a body length of 11.2 meters. Working independently, whaling biologists in Japan, who also measured killed whales, reached a similar conclusion; they described 11.3 meters as the break point between adolescents and adults.

To determine the lengths of living male humpbacks, Herman’s group analyzed digital videos that they made between 1998 and 2008 of 87 of the whale singers. The males were recorded as they sang in the waters off the Hawaiian islands of Maui, Lanai, Molokai, and Kahoolawe during their winter mating season. A swimmer carried the camera in one hand and in the other hand carried a sonar device, which measured the distance from the camera to the whale. The swimmer began filming when the whale assumed a horizontal position (singing whales are typically canted with their heads downward), so that he or she could capture the full body length of the whale while keeping the camera’s axis perpendicular to the whale and close to its midline. The researchers calculated the whales’ body lengths from these images and the distance measurements.

The scientists found that the whales varied in length from 10.7 meters to 13.6 meters. Using 11.3 meters as the boundary for sexually mature adults, the researchers counted 74 humpback singers as mature and 13 as immature. The team has been following individual humpbacks (which are identified by the unique markings on their tail flukes) for decades, and its analysis also showed that some individual males have been singing for 17 to 20 years. “It is a lifelong occupation for them,” says Herman, who notes that male calves and probably 1-year-old males don’t join in.

During the winter months in Hawaii, the male humpbacks assemble in areas that the researchers call arenas, where the males sing and compete for females. Typically, the singers are widely dispersed around their arenas, which may help amp up the reach of the chorus. Males also sing in other social situations, such as while escorting a female humpback and her calf.

When chorusing at the arenas, immature and mature whales are engaged in an unintentional mutual benefits game, Herman and his colleagues argue. By singing with the big boys, the youngsters indirectly learn the songs and the social rules of the mating grounds. The older males, in turn, gain an extra voice in their asynchronous chorus, his team reports in an upcoming issue of Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. “We know that the females don’t respond to an individual male’s song,” Herman says. “It’s not like a songbird’s song, designed to attract a female and repel other males. The humpbacks’ songs are meant to attract females to the arena.” That is, they tell the gals where the boys are. And another voice, even one of a young, inexperienced male, may help carry the message, he says.

The findings strengthen the still controversial idea that gatherings of male humpback whales may be similar to some birds’ lek mating systems, such as those of the sage grouse, which also feature male assemblages. If proved, humpbacks would be the first whale known to have this type of system.

“This is great stuff,” says Phillip Clapham, a cetacean biologist at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle, Washington. He applauds the idea of the males’ chorus serving to “collectively ‘call in’ the females.” He adds that “we’ve known for many years that only male humpbacks sing, but no one had ever managed to figure out a way to determine the maturational class of the singers, so this is a significant advance.”

Now all Herman and his team have to do is determine which of the male singers in the chorus a female actually mates with—an event the researchers have yet to see.

http://news.sciencemag.org/plants-animals/2013/08/mens-chorus%E2%80%94-whales

Thanks to Dr. Rajadhyaksha for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.


Two ocean scuba divers have narrowly missed being swallowed whole by two humpback whales that shot up from the deep to chase fish right next to where the divers were floating.

Charter boat owner and captain Shawn Stambuck was filming the divers off the coast of California from his boat and posted video of the near miss online on July 20.
In the footage, a whale’s tail can be seen breaking the surface in the distance as seagulls swoop down from above. A shot below the surface shows the ocean under the divers teaming with a large school of small fish, which one website later identified as sardines.

Then, out of nowhere, the water around two divers begins bubbling and frothing as the fish swim up and break the surface en masse. Seconds later, two massive whales barrel up out of the water with their mouths gaping open to swallow the fish, just metres away from the divers.

One of the divers can be heard yelling out “holy s—” as he swims for the boat.

“You’re going to have to do more to clean that wet suit,” another person laughs off camera.

The divers were likely never going to end up food for the whales, as humpbacks feed predominately on krill and small fish and do not have a gullet large enough to fit a human.

http://news.ninemsn.com.au/world/2013/07/23/06/08/divers-nearly-swallowed-by-humpback-whales