Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Whale Songs on the Open Seas

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Whale Songs on the Open Seas

Article excerpt

The whale watchers are back. They are predictable, like the swallows returning on schedule to Capistrano. Every summer, they arrive in droves to see what they can of the last great leviathans on Earth. If you stand on some rocky promontory looking out to sea, you can spy them on their whale-watching boats, searching for a tail fluke to break the surface.

And sometimes the whales are right on cue, feeding and breaching in breathtaking leaps out of the water to excite the watchers. And once in a while, the watchers will witness a lunge-feeding, when the whales go into a feeding frenzy. Then they will see the white water and fish flying in an action-packed, high-speed waterwheel.

The humpback whale, which ranges from 30 to 50 feet in length, is the most commonly sighted whale in the Gulf of Maine waters. This dark-gray or black whale blows a spout about 10 feet high and is squatter and hairier than other whales.

Its wide repertoire of acrobatics includes breaching, tail-slapping, rolling, spyhopping with its head poking out of the water, and snapping and waving its long flippers to attract attention. It even does headstands for an encore.

The humpback whale is found in every ocean in the world, but the first specimen ever described scientifically was found along the Maine coast, which is how it got the name novaeangliae. That's Latin for "big wing of New England" and refers to its long flippers.

The humpbacks are frequently sighted in Gulf of Maine waters from April though November. In late fall, they swim back to the Caribbean for the winter, where they breed before making the return trip north in the spring.

We know a lot about the migration patterns of humpback whales, because they travel in groups and they're fairly easy to track by boat and airplane. There are between 2,000 and 4,000 of them in the north Atlantic Ocean and approximately 200 or more in Maine waters from late spring through the fall. …

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