Not Normal: Humpbacks Are Congregating and Science is Baffled

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Humpback whales have been forming huge mobs, and humpbacks don’t do that. They’re generally solitary beasts, who temporarily hang in groups of a dozen, if that, but nothing like the in-the-hundreds sized swarms happening now off the coast of Africa. 

Yes, off the coast of South Africa. Also not normal at the times of year they’ve been seen there.Humpbacks predictably go down to Antartica to feed, and only come up to tropical waters to breed.

Scientists are calling them Super-pods, a newly coined term, given such swarms of humpbacks are unprecedented.

Here’s what we know: most of the whales are younger whales. And there has to be an impressively dense concentration of food there to attract and support that many 65,000-pound whales. And when humpbacks get together, they can “bubble net feed.” It’s a cooperative form of group-hunting that essentially lets a pack of whales suck up whole schools of fish.

Individual humpbacks can do something similar on their own, but the science community officially assumes these super-pods are formed for enhanced feeding purposes.

One theory being floated is: this is perfectly normal. Humpbacks were named a protected species back in 1996, but prior to that, they’d been drastically decimated in numbers. Perhaps, now that their numbers are back, we’re seeing they’re a social species, especially young ones, and always had been.

Or maybe, like science has been saying for years, the ocean is warming, the sea levels are rising, and its affecting its inhabitants in a way we’ve never seen, because change changes things.

Another theory is that we’re seeing evolution in action: Humpbacks are testing out new social feeding behaviours.

Either way, it’s weird, according to experts like Ken Findlay, who recently published an article on the matter. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” he told Time Magazine. “No such dense feeding aggregations have been reported elsewhere in low or mid latitudes during Southern Hemisphere humpback whale migrations. Indeed, aggregations of whales of this size have seldom been reported in the literature.”

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Go On By

Our Go On B'y web series presents surprising bits of news from around the world. It is one of three Overcast web series to look at things happening outside the province of NL.

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