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Humpback Whale

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The exuberant Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is one of the most popular sightings on whale watching excursions, thanks largely to its penchant for dramatic breaches, prolonged bouts of tail slapping, and pectoral fin waving. Of all the great baleen whales it puts on by far the most spectacular show, and is by far the most photographed.

Although considered to be a rorqual whale, its anatomy is very different to that of its sleek and streamlined cousins, the Blue, Fin & Sei Whales. It's knobbly and barnacle encrusted profile and ragged edged tail fluke and seemingly out of proportion pectoral fins, sometimes up to 16 feet in length (the longest appendages of any animal), are familiar and unmistakeable. Adults are 36-62 feet (11-19 metres) making the Humpback the 5th largest whale on the planet after the Blue, Fin, Sei & Bowhead. Humpbacks have very distinctive markings on the underside of their tail flukes which range from almost entirely white with a few black markings, to entirely black with a few white markings, and several thousand individuals have been photo-identified in this manner.

Humpbacks are widely distributed, ranging from tropical to polar seas, and though intensively whaled in the past, the worldwide population is again on the increase. The humpbacks seen off the west coast of Canada in summer and autumn are the same individuals seen mating off Hawaii in winter and spring. Their feeding behaviour and diet is more varied than the other rorqual whales, encompassing schooling fish as well as invertebrates. In fact the waters off Northern British Columbia and South East Alaska are the only place on earth where you can see humpbacks using their famous bubble-netting and lunge feeding technique to feed on fish shoals. This co-operative feeding strategy involves multiple individuals circling below a shoal while producing columns of bubbles in a continuous spiral of exhaled air which cause the fish to cluster together in a tight "bait ball" near the surface. One or more individuals then swim vertically upwards through the bubble net gulping huge mouthfuls of fish as they burst explosively through the surface in a dramatic final lunge.

On a Bear Trails tour you can see Humpback Whales off the coast of Northern British Columbia in July, August and September, and there are also frequent sightings (e.g. every other day) off the west coast of Vancouver Island in August and September.

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