Saturday, October 3, 2009

11 whales a'leaping

Were you aware that humpback whales have the largest appendages in the animal kingdom? I didn't think so. Their 4m long pectoral fins are indeed an impressive sight and they have been using them to good effect around here lately, slapping the water with gunshot cracks that echo across to our homestead on the clifftops.

Also impressive in the noise-making category is their song. Apparently the males can reach 180db and the sound has been known to travel up to 100km underwater. It's curious that they manage to sing without exhaling at all, although I suppose that is an advantage if you are an air breather living in the sea.

 Dolphins on the bow
We circumnavigated our island by boat last Monday and counted no fewer than 11 humpbacks and an excitable pod of bottlenose dolphins that were just desperate to play. Dave would kill the motor whenever they came near, so they would promptly leave again. It wasn't until we moved off - the faster, the better - that they flocked back in to the bow to race. They were having a great time.

We are shortly to complete our annual whale survey. The Kermadecs are on a migratory path for the humpbacks and their numbers are still relatively low, post whaling. These whales always remain separate from all the other whale groups moving south at this time of year to feed on the antarctic krill, so they have nothing to do with New Caledonian humpbacks, or the Aussies (understandable - too fond of beer), or the ones that move down the African or South American coastlines.

With the exception of the infants, they don't feed on the way. Young whales have the benefit of a mother's milk that has ten times the fat content of a cow and contains twice the protein. They can put on a kilogram an hour when they suckle.

I suppose it's only a matter of time before Fonterra gets onto them.

A series of five shots of whales leaping recently, taken from our front lawn

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