10 things you never knew about humpback whales

Plenty of destinations are known for their roads (ahem: Pacific Coast Highway, Hana Highway, Route 66), but Queensland’s coast has a famous highway of a different kind. We’re talking about the humpback highway, the migration channel that runs the coast of this state, supporting some 33,000 (plus) humpback whales who visit Queensland to escape the chilly waters of Antarctica for the Great Barrier Reef each year.

It’s a highway that doesn’t take cars and whose locomotives are about 20m long, weigh 40 tonnes and eat a diet of krill all day every day.

The whales’ migration pattern isn’t just interesting for visitors, but researchers too, who’ve been studying their behaviours closely, adding to this growing list of humpback whale facts every time they swim by.

You’re about to become an asset to your trivia team with these humpback whale facts.

1. Every whale watching is different

Whale season might run for four months, but don’t expect the same breach, spy hop and fin slap every day of it.

According to Keith Reid, Captain of Freedom III, there are three distinct components to the four-month whale season and your day on the water completely depends on who’s come to play.

Visit in June and July to catch the first adult singletons who enter Queensland’s coastline to rest and recreate.

If you’re on the coast early in the season, book a trip from the Gold Coast (Sea World Whale Watch), Sunshine Coast (Sunreef Mooloolaba) or Brisbane (Brisbane Whale Watching) to catch the first pods make their migration.

If you’re looking for Cetacea-creche, pay a visit to Hervey Bay from August to September when newborn calves start learning their new tricks – ‘mug’ and ‘spy hop’. You’ll be spoilt for boat choice – so we’d recommend reading this post first. For a once in a lifetime experience, book with Hervey Bay Dive Centre which offers Hervey Bay’s only dedicated swim with whales experience.

For the best breach action, book a trip with one of these Hervey Bay operators in October as the calves start to master their new moves, with plenty of bubble trails, pectoral slaps, and breaching.

2. All whale tails are different


Photo by @shotsbysez

Just as no two zebras have the same stripes or cheetahs have the same spots, whales are completely identifiable by the markings on their tail fluke.

Like fingerprints or tattoos on their tail, scientists, tour operators and Queensland Parks rangers use these markers to track and research whale patterns along the east coast and tell who’s in the bay on the day.

The exception of course is Migaloo who can be spotted by his colour alone. If you’ve never met Migaloo, he’s the white whale who frequents the waters each year and makes news headlines for the first sighting.

3. Humpback whales sing

It might be music to their ears, but if you’ve ever heard whale song, you’ll know the sound is haunting.

Interestingly, it’s only male whales that sing, making these marine giants the ultimate boy band of the sea.

Their songs can be heard up to 30km away: good news for anyone on board Blue Dolphin, which has hydrophone connectivity to hear the whale song from underwater, while you stay dry on deck.

If you happen to DIY a sailing adventure in the Whitsundays in humpback whale season in Queensland, be sure to request a hull cabin. You won’t be the first person to fall asleep to the sound of whale song through the cabin walls.

4. Their dental history is fascinating

Humpback whales Queensland

Photo by @radimklimes

Imagine having fringed curtains for teeth? That’s the reality for humpback whales who fall into the baleen whale category.

This means that rather than teeth they have overlapping plates made of keratin (the same substance as human hair), for filtering their food.

Rather than chew their food, humpbacks swallow it all, expelling what they won’t digest from their blow holes.

5. Peduncle is a real word

whale watching Hervey Bay

Image: Michael Smith

Put this one in your Scrabble arsenal. “Peduncle” is a word, and it refers to the karate-chopping action of a whale’s tail on water.

It’s usually a defensive move and often a dead giveaway that a female is fending off unwanted male advances.

Between mother and calf, scientists suggest this is a humpback whales’ way of sending a little one to the naughty corner.

6. Whales see everything

Whales are not only alerted to boisterous action, they’re thought to be curiously attracted to it.

If you’re on board one of these whale watching vessels and come across humpbacks, the skipper is likely to ask you to wave. Trust us, it’s not (just) for their entertainment – it’s so the whale is inquisitive enough to come eye-to-eye with the boat.

7. Breaching is akin to a humpback body scrub

Humpback whales Queensland

Image: Michael Smith

Scientists have been studying whales breaching for years, and while the jury is hung as to why they do it, everyone is united that it’s an awesome sight.

Some scientists explain breaching as the whales’ means of dislodging barnacles and parasites from their torso, while others suggest it’s just for fun.

If you happen to be on board one of these humpback whale-watching boats in Queensland when one breaches, we can guarantee you’ll be joining in on the whales’ fun.

8. Whales can hold their breath for 40 minutes

If you thought you could hold your breath underwater for a long time, just wait ‘til you see whales.

These marine giants have a highly efficient breathing system that allows them to absorb up to 90 percent of the 200 litres of oxygen they inhale, compared to just 15 percent humans do.

For whale watchers, this means if you have a whale sighted in a certain position one moment, it could be MIA by the time your whale-watching vessel motors by.

To counteract this game of cat and mouse, the whale watching operators up and down the coast all talk on walkie talkies – in the spirit of collaboration rather than competition to ensure you can spot them.

9. Whale newborns are enormous

The average human baby might weigh 3.5kg, but the average humpback whale calf weighs over 900kg!

Their gestation of over 12 months is well recorded along the Queensland coast, as they migrate north to birth their babies in the warm waters of the Great Barrier Reef.

10. The can swim for a really, really long time

If their migration pattern didn’t give it away, humpback whales in Queensland have one of the longest migratory journeys of any mammal.

We’re talking 5,000km, over three months each year – most of which is along Australia’s east coast. Reason enough to book a beach holiday between July and October each year and request an ocean-view room.