By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Many have seen the common humpback whale, but fewer have seen one from the inside. A lobster diver near Cape Cod was swallowed whole by a humpback—an extremely rare incident—which then spat him out. Humpbacks are seldom dangerous.
A Massachusetts man got the ride of a lifetime Friday morning while he was diving for lobster near Cape Cod. Fifty-six-year-old Michael Packard was swallowed whole by a humpback whale, where he stayed for an estimated 20 seconds before being spit back out, sources told USA Today. However, a whaling expert who spoke with USA Today said that he believed the whale ate Packard by mistake while feeding on smaller fish, because humpbacks are generally not aggressive creatures.
Not everyone is willing to get that close to a whale to learn about it. In his video series National Geographic Polar Explorations, journalist, author, and editor Fen Montaigne explained the habits of the gentle giant known as the humpback whale.
“The most commonly seen large whale in Antarctic waters is the humpback, which can grow to be more than 50 feet long and and weigh up to 80,000 pounds,” Montaigne said. “Humpbacks are found in all the world’s oceans; their number is estimated at about 100,000 individuals, or slightly more. At least several thousand humpbacks regularly migrate to the Southern Ocean every summer, primarily to feed on the vast quantities of Arctic krill.”
According to Montaigne, humpbacks are members of the rorqual family, which is the largest family of baleen whales. Baleen whales use what are called baleen plates to filter out their prey from the sea.
Baleen plates are made mostly of keratin, which is the same substance found in human hair and fingernails. Baleen plates are the bristly looking part of the whale’s mouth and resembles a mustache. Whales eat by taking in a large, open mouthful of water, closing their mouths, and pushing the water back out. Whatever remains—aside from the occasional lobster diver—the whale eats for food.
Dinner and a Show
If this feeding method sounds less than ideal for a single whale, it certainly can be. To make feeding far more efficient, several humpbacks at a time often work together in a manner similar to sharks.
“Small groups of humpbacks engage in what’s known as ‘bubble-net feeding,’ during which the whales swim in an ever-tightening circle to trap fish or other prey inside the bubble ring,” Montaigne said. “The whales then lunge through the concentrations of trapped prey.”
Additionally, he said, humpback males are known to communicate through long, sophisticated songs, which they sing in a low register. Humpback songs can last more than 15 minutes apiece. According to Montaigne, scientists now believe that before the era of commercial whaling drove down their numbers, as many as 200,000 humpback whales may have migrated to feed in the Southern Ocean. While those numbers have certainly dwindled, it’s not all bad news.
“The growing number of humpback whales regularly encountered in summer today along the Antarctic Peninsula demonstrates that the species is making a slow, steady recovery.”