The Enthusiasm of the Humpback Whale

Contrary to its name, the humpback whale has no hump on its back. Its sleek body enable it to swim swiftly through the ocean as it makes its annual trek across 4,000 miles of open sea, playfully enjoying itself along the way.

Breeching on Enthusiasm

Various kinds of whales demonstrate playful behaviors, but the consistent enthusiasm of the humpback is notable among them.

Splashing, diving, slapping, fluking, and leaping twenty or more feet into the air are among the humpback’s frequent sports. An energetic humpback may lift its entire 50-foot long, 40-ton body from the water, hanging motionlessly suspended in midair for a moment before crashing gloriously into the sea in what is called breaching.

It is unknown exactly why the whale engages in these amazing leaps. Some scientists believe that humpbacks surge out of the waters in an attempt to dislodge parasites. Others have proposed that it is something like a yawn—a great gasp of air.

Without any way of confirming these or other speculations, many researchers refer to the humpback’s energetic leap with the highly scientific designation joie de vivre (French for “joy in life”).

Sharing Enthusiasm

Humpback whales sing the longest song in the animal world. Somewhat like the repeated songs of many birds, the humpback sings a theme of chirps, moans, cries, snores, yups, and oooos, anywhere from 6-20 minutes long. This theme is repeated over and over for hours, reverberating a hundred miles or more through the sea.

Although still shrouded with mystery, the meaning of the whale’s song must be some sort of community-shared expression. Whales living with in the same oceanic region sing the same song amongst themselves.

Throughout a single season prior to migrating, the whales’ song will vary slightly. Each whale within the region picks up on the variations and incorporates them into its song. When the whales return after migration, they pick up the song where they last left off.

Exactly how the humpbacks produce the sounds is not fully understood. They have no vocal cords, yet the sounds they produce cover a wider frequency range than that of any other whale.

Researchers have observed that humpbacks in different oceans or different regions of large oceans sing different songs.