Humpbacks get big air

Photo: Jags Brown
Photo and video: Jags Brown

— Rhonda Lee McIsaac

Gaaw Xaad Kil: Kun

HlGaagilda Xaayda Kil: Kun

English: Humpback Whale

Latin: Megaptera novaeangliae (large winged)

Kun Humpback whale are baleen whales, a filter feeder, and one of 76 cetacean species. They are considered an endangered species.

They are slow swimmers, migrate long distances, dive deep and when they breach these mammals can get ‘big air’.

The females are larger than the males sometimes reaching 50 feet and weighing 40 tons. The males grow to about 48 feet which is about the size of a large school bus.

Kun have at least one stiff hair in each of the rounded, bumpy knobs found on their head and lower jaw that acts as a sensory tool. A double stream of spray emitting from their two blowholes during exhale can rise 10-13 feet into the air.

Kun songs, which are often sung for hours, can be heard for kilometres under the ocean. They learn these songs from each other as humans do and the songs change a little from year to year. They can be mating songs or for communicating with other kun. The whistles made by humpbacks are known to be a warning to other whales to stay back.

Their distinctive body shape makes them easy to identify and they use their massive tail to propel their bus-sized body through the water and for breaching.

When breaching kun arches its back (making it look like a hump) and often lands with a large splash that can be seen from far away. They often slap their flukes and tails in the water to communicate or startle feed or simply for play. Kun can also be seen doing head rises while swimming or a more visible spy hopping behaviour where it lunges it’s head out of the water to simply check things out.

Kun travel in large loose pods and gather to feed often circling a school of fish or krill with a net of bubbles and they can consume up to 1.5 tons of krill, plankton and small fish, like herring, a day.

Female kun and their young have a close relationship. Calves nurse for a year and take ten years to reach maturity.

Haida Gwaii is on this huge cetacean’s route between feeding grounds in the Alaskan waters and the breeding waters in Hawai’i.

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