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Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

Humpback whales and the sardine run

The Humpback whales is a common sighting for adventurers experiencing the sardine run. These frequent sightings lead many visitors to incorrectly believe that these giant leviathans presence is related to the feasting opportunity on the sardine shoals. However, the presence of the Humpback whale is driven by the fact that they utilise the continental shelf of South Africa as a migratory highway between their winter feeding grounds in Antarctica, and their summer breeding and birthing grounds in Mozambique. Despite having no ecological relationship to the sardine run, the humpback whale is a firm favorite to view for adventurers on the Sardine Run.

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Humpback whale ecology

Humpback whales are known for their magical songs, which travel for great distances through the world’s oceans. These sequences of moans, howls, cries, and other noises are quite complex and often continue for hours on end. Scientists are studying these sounds to decipher their meaning. It is most likely that humpbacks sing to communicate with others and to attract potential mates.

These whales are found near coastlines, feeding on tiny shrimp-like krill, plankton, and small fish. Humpbacks migrate annually from summer feeding grounds near the poles to warmer winter breeding waters closer to the Equator. Mothers and their young swim close together, often touching one another with their flippers with what appear to be gestures of affection. Females nurse their calves for almost a year, though it takes far longer than that for a humpback whale to reach full adulthood. Calves do not stop growing until they are ten years old.

Humpbacks are powerful swimmers, and they use their massive tail fin, called a fluke, to propel themselves through the water and sometimes completely out of it. These whales, like others, regularly leap from the water, landing with a tremendous splash. Scientists aren’t sure if this breaching behavior serves some purpose, such as cleaning pests from the whale’s skin, or whether whales simply do it for fun.