We’ve had a lot of lucky run-ins with whales whilst filming projects on the East Coast recently. It’s the middle of whale season, so anytime you find yourself our at sea on a boat, kayak or surfboard, chances are you’ll spot whales nearby. Make sure to not approach them closer than 100m or from the front, but if you get really lucky, they might swim over to see what you are up to.
We’ve had a few whales come over to check us out filming for THL and ocean kayaks this year, and it’s been incredible. Reading up on them afterwards blew our minds even more, so here are our favorite weird & wonderful whale facts:
1) The blue whale is the largest ever animal to have lived on planet earth. Yes, that’s larger than any dinosaur. Its newborn baby weighs as much as an adult Asian elephant. Interestingly, that’s about the same weight as a fully-grown adult blue whale’s tongue.
2) Sound travels roughly 4x faster in water as it does in air, so on a good day, blue whales can communicate over thousands of kilometres creating low frequency pulses. The sounds are well off the human hearing spectrum, which is probably a very good thing as the chatterbox pulses make them one of the loudest animals on earth.
3) Humpback whale songs have striking similarity with human musical tradition. Unlike linear bird song, humpbacks will sing notes in a distinct hierarchical structure, creating sub-phrases that group into phrases, which are repeated over and over for 2-4 minutes. This theme is then combined with other themes to create a song, which can last around half an hour. The whale hums this song to itself and others over the course of hours or even days. Other whales in the area will join in or create their own variations.
4) Whales can hear you above water, and if it they feel comfortable will respond positively to humans cheering, gently waving and making whale-like singing sounds. No joke, we’ve seen it happen. A beluga in captivity called NOC has been recorded mimicking human speech.
5) Beluga whales have been documented to be very curious about human music in particular, showing great interest in underwater mics, people playing instruments near where they are swimming and even bobbing their heads to the rhythm.
6) Whales are split into two groups. One group has teeth (sperm whales, belugas, orcas etc.), the other has brush like keratinous plates called baleen (humpbacks, right whales and blue whales), that are used to sift through water for tiny plankton. Interestingly, the toothed whale species are able to echolocate using sonar, but baleen whales generally can’t.
7) Whales have small ears, but use their large, hollow, fat filled lower jawbones to pick up sound waves that get transmitted straight to the brain. So it’s like having an ear for a chin.
8) Whales get sunburn. Blue whales are most susceptible and dark skinned fin whales the least.
9) The East Coast of Australia is on of the best places to spot whales, as migrating adults travelling north stay within 10km of the coast to avoid the southbound 7km/h pull of the East Australian Current (EAC), made famous by Crush and his family of turtles in Finding Nemo.
10) Sperm Whales sleep standing up, and only between 6pm and midnight. Check it out!