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The Humpback Whale -- Genus Megaptera

 

The Humpback Whale
Genus Megaptera

 

The Humpback Whale - Copyright Stan Klos



The humpback whale (Megaptera boops) belongs to the group characterized by the presence of a number of longitudinal flutings in the skin of the throat, and of a fin on the back. It is distinguished from the finners (described below), by the comparatively large size of the head, the short and deep body, the small size of the fin on the back, and the enormous length of the flippers. The flukes are relatively large, and the flippers are characterized by their scalloped margins. As in the grey whale and finners, the vertebrae of the neck are relatively longer than in the right whales, and remain perfectly separate from one another throughout life. The whalebone, which is of a deep black color, is short and broad, and of a coarse and but slightly elastic structure. In length the humpback varies from 45 to 50 feet; the flippers measuring from 10 to 14 feet in length. The general color of the body is black above, but often more or less marbled with white below, while the flippers may be either entirely white, or black above and speckled with white below. The skeleton of the flippers has four digits, with a great number of joints.

The name humpback, according to Captain Scammon, is derived from the prominence on the back which carries the fin, but there appears to be considerable individual variation in regard to the degree of its development. Captain Scammon, from whose figures our plate is taken, makes this prominence at least as high as any other part of the back, while in the position assumed by the suckling female in the lower half of the plate it is the highest point of all In a figure given by Sir W. H. Flower the whole back is made more arched, with the highest point only a short distance behind the base of the flippers; possibly, however, there may be individual differences in this respect. It may be mentioned here that when a whale leaps out of the water, as in the topmost figure of our plate, it is said to " breach "; when a fin is shown out of the water, as in the two right upper figures, the action is termed " finning "; while, when the flukes alone are exposed, as on the left side of the plate, it is called " lob-tailing."

Humpbacks are found in nearly all seas, and at present it appears Distribution. impossible to distinguish more than a single species, although some writers maintain that the one inhabiting the Persian Gulf is distinct from the common form. Although they are said to be not uncommon off the eastern coast of Scotland during the summer, but few examples have been taken in the British Seas. One was, however, captured at Newcastle in 1839, a second at the mouth of the Dee in 1863, a third in Wick Bay, Caithness, in 1871, and a fourth in the Tay during the winter of 1883-84.



As regards the habits of the humpback, Captain Scammon states that this whale generally prefers " to feed and perform its uncouth gambols near extensive coasts or about the shores of islands, in all latitudes between the Equator and the frozen oceans, both north and south. It is irregular in its movements, seldom going a straight course for any considerable distance; at one time moving about in large numbers, scattered over the sea as far as the eye can discern from the masthead, at other times singly, seeming as much at home as if it were surrounded by hundreds of its kind, performing at will the varied actions of 'breaching,' 'rolling,' 'finning,' 'lob-tailing,' or 'scooping,' or, on a calm sunny day, perhaps lying motionless on the molten-looking surface, as though life were extinct." On the coasts of Norway, although generally found in small numbers, Mr. Collett states that it is occasionally very numerous—so much so that in one instance a steamer had to exercise great care in steering, in order to avoid coming into collision with these whales. They were met with in great profusion by Captain Gray in 1880 to the north of Ireland, accompanied by numbers of the lesser finwhales. Two young are frequently produced at a birth.

The amount of oil yielded by a humpback is very variable, a female with a large young one having scarcely any blubber. Captain Scammon states that he has known the amount of oil taken from some individuals not to exceed eight or ten barrels, while in others the yield has been as much as seventy-five
.  -- The Royal Natural History: Mammals, birds By Richard Lydekker - 1895 Edited by Stanley L. Klos 1999


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