Humpback whales are enormous creatures about the size of a school bus. They are known for their haunting and melodic songs and for breaching the water with amazing acrobatic abilities. Humpbacks don’t normally have a hump on their backs; the name comes from the large hump that forms when they arch their backs before making a deep dive into the ocean. The scientific name, Megaptera novaeangliae, means “big-winged New Englander” because the population that swam off New England was the best known to Europeans, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Humpback whales are not the biggest whales — that’s the blue whale. Humpbacks can grow to 60 feet (18 meters) long, and they can weigh a whopping 40 tons (about half the size of a blue whale), according to the NOAA. Their flippers can grow up to 16 feet (5 m) long, which is the largest appendage in the world. Their tails are also massive and grow up to 18 feet (5.5 m) wide. Like most whales, females are larger than males.
Humpbacks’ heads are broad and rounded and covered with knobs, called tubercles. Each knob contains at least one stiff hair, according to the American Cetacean Society (ACS). The purpose of the hairs is not known, but it is thought that they may be motion detectors.
Humpbacks are black on the upper (dorsal) side and mottled black and white on the under (ventral) side. Ventral pleats run from the tip of the lower jaw … Read More
Despite their name, vampire squid are not deep-sea bloodsuckers. In fact, new research finds these mysterious creatures are garbage disposals of the ocean. Using long, skinny tendrils called filaments, vampire squid capture marine detritus hovering in the water from crustacean eyes and legs to larvae poop then coat it in mucus before chowing down, according to the new findings.The discovery is a first for cephalopods, which include squid, octopus and cuttlefish, said study researcher Henk-Jan Hoving. “It’s the first record of a cephalopod that doesn’t hunt for living prey,” Hoving, a postdoctoral scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California, told LiveScience.
A mystery squid
Vampire squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis), which grow to be about a foot (30 centimeters) long, are widespread but not well-known. Even their life spans remains a mystery. Their name comes from their dark coloring, red eyes and the cloak-like webbing between their arms. And as namesakes of the undead, vampire squid apparently have little need for breathing. They thrive in oceanic oxygen minimum zones, where the oxygen levels are sometimes less than … Read More
Meeting a great white shark in the wild is nothing like you expect it would be. At first glance it’s not the malevolent beast we’ve come to expect from a thousand TV shows. It’s portly, bordering on fat, like an overstuffed sausage. Flabby jowls tremble down its body when it opens its mouth, which otherwise is a chubby, slightly parted smirk. From the side, one of the world’s greatest predators is little more than a slack-jawed buffoon.
It’s only when the underwater clown turns to face you that you understand why it’s the most feared animal on Earth. From the front its head is no longer soft and jowly but tapers to an arrow that draws its black eyes into a sinister-looking V. The bemused smile is gone, and all you see are rows of two-inch teeth capable of crunching down with almost two tons of force. Slowly, confidently, it approaches you. It turns its head, first to one side and then the other, evaluating you, deciding whether you’re worth its time. Then if you’re lucky, it turns away, becoming the buffoon again, and glides lazily into the gloom.
There are more than 500 species of sharks, but in popular imagination there’s really only one. When Pixar needed an underwater villain for its animated film Finding Nemo, it didn’t look to the affable nurse shark or the aggressive bull shark. Not even the tiger shark, which would be more appropriate in Nemo’s coral-reef home. It was the great white shark—with