Our species of the week is the majestic Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), which migrates through the waters of the Dutch Caribbean Islands during the winter months (typically January to April). Caribbean populations of Humpback Whales follow the same migration route every year: they feed in the cold Artic waters throughout summer and travel south to breed and give birth in the warm waters of the Caribbean throughout winter.
The windward islands of Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten are especially significant for this whale species, as they are located in the middle of a major breeding area. Humpbacks are occasionally spotted off the coast of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao, but much less frequently. The St. Maarten Nature Foundation recently conducted a Marine Mammal survey and found that the Humpback whale was the most abundant species (of mammals) within the island’s Man of War Shoal Marine Park and surrounding waters. Humpbacks have also been observed as close as 100 m (~328 ft) from St. Eustatius’ shore; a favorite viewpoint is the Lookout at the Miriam Schmidt Botanical Garden.
Those lucky enough to see the whales will not be disappointed – Humpbacks are true “acrobats of the sea” and will give viewers an impressive show of jumps out of the water (known as breaching) and tail and flipper slaps. Many scientists believe that it is an important form of communication, that males may do this during courtship to get a female’s attention; others also believe that the whales do this to clean their skin from pests, especially barnacles; and others still believe the whales breach and slap just for fun!
Another fascinating behaviour of Humpback Whales is their singing, which was recorded by Nature Foundation St. Maarten (http://www.youtube.com/