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Published on July 23rd, 2013 | by Erin Raub


9 Things You Probably Didn’t Know about Humpback Whales

breeching humpback whale

Humpback whale perform awesome acrobatics | Photo Creative Commons © Marina C. Vinhal

In case you didn’t know, Costa Rica’s whale-watching season is upon us! July marks the arrival of humpbacks in the southern Pacific, here for another season of mating and calfing. (I guess even whales like to honeymoon in Costa Rica!)

Costa Rica’s Drake Bay, on the Osa Peninsula, is home to the longest humpback whale-watching season in the world. (How cool is that?!) South American humpbacks migrate north from Antarctica to spend July through October here (their mating and calfing season), while North American populations flee the Arctic to winter in Costa Rica (December through April). All told, the Osa Peninsula hosts humpback whales for nine months of the year – more than any other place on Earth!

If you’re interested in whale watching in Costa Rica – and you should be, it’s an incredible sight! – you should head on down to the southern Pacific. In fact, more than 25 whale and dolphin species migrate or reside here, so you’ll have the chance to spot humpbacks, Bryde’s whales, orcas (technically dolphins, of course), sei whales, and more. For prime whale watching, Drake Bay is your best bet although any Osa Peninsula hotel serves as a great home base.

And now, without further ado, 9 awesome things you [probably] never knew about humpback whales:

hairy humpback whale head

Humpback whales have facial hair! | Photo Creative Commons © Rainer J. Wagner

1. They’re huge.

Humpback whales grow an astounding 48-62.5 feet long and weigh 25-40 tons (that’s 50,000-80,000 pounds!). That’s as much as five African elephants, the largest land mammal in the world!

2. And they really, really like to eat.

Though humpbacks dine on tiny krill and small fish, they eat up to 1.5 tons (that’s 3,000 pounds!) of fish everyday. (Now that’s an expensive sushi habit!) But get this: They only eat during the summer.

3. Their flippers account for nearly 1/3 of their total size.

Humpbacks have the largest flippers of any whale species. The white-mottled propellers measure 1/4 to 1/3 the whale’s total length; in other words, up to 20 feet long!

4. They have fingerprints.

Well, sort of. Every humpback whale has patterned markings on its underside that are so unique, each individual can be identified by just this white-and-gray “fingerprint.”

5. They like company. Lots and lots of company.

Humpback whales migrate and travel in pods of up to 20,000 individuals!

6. They have facial hair.

A humpback’s lower jaw and top of the head is covered in bumpy knobs, each with at least one, coarse hair. The purpose of this “facial hair” is unknown, although scientists think they might help a whale detect nearby movement.

7. They’re the ocean’s Pavarotti.

Male humpback whale sing elaborate, beautiful and somewhat eerie songs to attract females during mating season. Their complex vocalizations are the most wide-ranging (20-9,000 Hertz) and inventive of any whale species.

8. They’re acrobatic.

Humpbacks are known to breech, dive, spin and dance in and out of the water. Two of their more endearing tricks include lobtailing – sticking their tail up to slap the ocean’s surface – and spyhopping, when their heads pop above the surface like a submarine’s periscope.

9. They have to remember to breathe. Seriously.

Unlike humans, humpback whales breath voluntarily – kind of a requirement when you breathe air but spend most of your time underwater. Therefore, scientists postulate that humpbacks actually turn off half their brain so they can sleep!

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