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Humpback Whales are the playful giants of the sea

✦ Every year, approximately 30,000 humpback whales embark on the world's longest mammal migration, travelling over 5,000 kilometres from their feeding grounds in Antarctica to the subtropical waters of Queensland to breed. In Spring, they make the return journey, accompanied by their calves.

Each year between April and November, Australia's eastern coastline is graced with the magnificent sight of beautiful, majestic humpback whales as they migrate from the icy waters of the Southern Ocean to the warmer, more inviting waters of Queensland. This incredible journey, spanning over 5,000 kilometres, is a spectacle of nature, filled with acrobatic displays and the heartwarming sight of humpback whale babies swimming alongside their mothers.

Humpback Whale Photo: Richard Cunningham | Brilliant Online Australia Singapore UK | Brilliant Online
A Humpback swimming along the Pacific Ocean off Port Macquarie | Photo: Richard Cunningham

The monumental journey north

Southern Hemisphere humpback whales undertake a monumental migration to mate and give birth in the safety of the subtropical waters. The calves, born in these warmer waters, begin their lives in a gentle environment, free from the extreme conditions of the Antarctic.

Beautiful new beginnings

Humpback whale calves are born weighing around 1.5 tonnes and measuring approximately 4.5 metres in length. Don't be fooled by their massive size though. These babies are incredibly vulnerable and rely heavily on their mothers for nourishment and protection. For the first year of their lives, these calves consume only their mother's milk, which is incredibly rich in fat—up to 50%—allowing them to grow rapidly and build up the blubber necessary for survival in colder waters.

Humpback calves can drink over 600 litres of milk each day! - NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service

Giants who love to play

Did you know these gentle giants actually love to play? Observers along Australia's coastline often witness calves breaching, tail-slapping, and engaging in other playful behaviours as they develop the skills they will need in later life. Just like children, play is necessary for the physical development of the young whales!

Bonding and Learning

The bond between a humpback whale mother and her calf is incredibly strong. Research has discovered that mother humpback whales and their calves communicate through soft squeaks and grunts, which are much quieter than other humpback vocalisations. This "whispering" helps them stay connected while making it harder for potential predators to detect them. The mother will often be seen guiding her calf, teaching it essential survival skills such as how to breach and tail slap, which can be used for communication and stunning prey. This period of close interaction and learning is vital for the calf's development, ensuring it gains the strength and knowledge needed for the arduous journey back to the feeding grounds in Antarctica.

The journey home

As spring approaches, the humpback whales begin their return journey south. This journey is especially challenging for the young calves, who must travel great distances alongside their mothers. By this time, the calves have grown considerably, thanks to their mothers' nutrient-rich milk. They have also gained valuable experience and skills through months of play and learning in the warmer waters.

A spectacular season

The annual migration of the humpback whales is one of nature's most awe-inspiring events. For those fortunate enough to witness it, the sight of these majestic creatures, especially the playful and endearing calves, is a reminder of the incredible resilience and beauty of the natural world. As they make their way along Australia’s eastern coastline, one cannot help but be reminded of the importance of preserving our oceans and the incredible lives they support deep within.

"Human-factors such as shark nets and Orcas/Killer whales are some of the greatest threats affecting a young humpback’s start at life." -

So, as you stand on the shores, gazing out at the vast expanse of the ocean, take a moment to be inspired by the journey of the humpback whale calves. Their story is one of growth, learning, and survival—a testament to the wonders of the marine world.

Photo location: Pacific Ocean off Port Macquarie

Photographer: Richard Cunningham




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