National Geographic : 1940 Jan
WHALES, GIANTS OF THE SEA shaped head, high curved dorsal fin, and taper ing fore flippers all contribute to its graceful lines. Old adults reach a length of approx imately 82 feet. The back is sharply ridged toward the tail, and the throat furrowed. Finbacks are normally dark gray above and snow white beneath. Curiously, the right side of the head is more whitish than the left. The longest blades of whalebone measure 20 to 36 inches. The long bristles hanging from the inner edge of each blade are whitish or yel lowish. Calves measure 21 or 22 feet at birth and are nursed for at least six months. Finbacks may reach the ripe old age of 20 years. The animal expels its vaporous breath to a height of 15 or 20 feet at the instant the blow holes on the vertex of the head break the sur face of the water. The spout rises vertically as a narrow column at first and then expands into an elongated ellipse before it is dissolved. Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) Humpbacks are generally distributed in the oceans of the world according to season and feeding conditions (Plate VI). These whales migrate along well-defined courses at definite seasons, pass the winter in tropical or sub tropical waters, and return to the polar seas in the spring (pages 37 and 62). A thickset body and long fore flippers give the Humpback an ungraceful appearance. The obtusely rounded snout of the flattened head and the rows of rounded knobs on the snout and lower jaws have convinced more than one inexperienced ocean traveler that he has seen some strange sea serpent. Humpbacks are normally black except for the white throat and breast. The whalebone blades are grayish black, with bristles four to six inches long. At nursing time the calf demonstrates its playful affection by leaping and splashing around its mother until sharply called to the business at hand by several slaps from her long flippers. The calves, which measure 15 to 16 feet and weigh more than 3.000 pounds at birth, are nursed for about a year. The average length of old adults is around 48 feet. Favorite food of the Humpback seems to be small shrimplike crustaceans. Along the coasts of Norway and Labrador, Humpbacks follow large schools of capelin, a small smeltlike fish. Humpbacks are noted for their playful an tics, such as "lob-tailing," when the partially submerged whale is seemingly standing on its head, thrashing the surface water into foam by powerful strokes of its flukes. More remark able is its habit of "breaching," or jumping clear of the water in a vertical direction and then falling on its side with a great splash. Gray Whale (Rhachianectes glaucus) The shore-loving Gray Whale is found only in the North Pacific Ocean (Plate VII). Along the western coast of North America it migrates in winter as far south as the latitude of the State of Jalisco, Mexico, returning to the Arctic Ocean in the spring. Other herds of Gray Whales that pass the summer in Okhotsk Sea, along the Kamchatka coast and the Arctic Ocean, appear off southeastern Korea (Chosen) toward the end of November on their south ward migration. The Gray Whale has only two to four short throat furrows, a slight hump but no distinct dorsal fin. It attains a maximum length of about 50 feet and, like other baleen whales, the females average larger than the males. Al though the general coloration is black or very dark slate, the whole body from head to caudal flukes is usually marred by many white or light gray circular scars, presumably left by para sitic cirripeds such as barnacles. The largest blades of whalebone in its mouth are from 14 to 18 inches long. These blades are thick and heavy, yellowish white or light yellow. Gray Whale calves 16 to 18 feet in length are born usually in the last half of January, and are weaned 6 to 8 months later when they have grown to 25 feet. In the Bering Sea, Gray Whales feed on sev eral kinds of amphipods resembling sand fleas. When traveling along the shore, they submerge for 8 to 10 minutes at a time. The spout rises vertically to 10 or 11 feet. Bowhead Whale (Balaena mysticetus) Bowhead Whales formerly ranged from Spits bergen westward to eastern Siberia, approach ing the pack ice around the North Pole in summer, and moving southward again in the fall (Plate VIII). Today the few remaining Bowheads appear in Bering Strait in June and proceed eastward to the mouth of the Macken zie River, and Baillie and Banks Islands. From September to November, depending on ice conditions, they pass Point Barrow, Alaska. and spend the winter months in drifting field ice about the Aleutians and the Kurile Islands north of Japan. Bowheads were hunted almost to extinction in the North Atlantic between 1612 and 1887. but meanwhile a new fishery was opened up in Bering Sea and the neighboring Arctic regions in 1848. Notwithstanding many setbacks, in cluding the burning of whaling vessels in Ber ing Sea during the Civil War by the Confed erate privateer Shenandoah, and the destruction by pack ice of the entire Arctic fleet in 1871 and 1877, whaling was continued on a rapidly diminishing scale in these waters for many years thereafter.