Juvenile Humpback Whale Breaches Near Shore in Malibu

September 17th, 2022

A big Thank You to LA County Lifeguard Carter Baldwin for spotting what turned out to be a humpback whale migrating past Point Dume today! This humpback traveled through, much the way the gray whales migrate near shore, coming in close, passing the point and then heading out to deeper waters at 500 yards off shore. I was able to relocate the whale just north of Nicholas Canyon Beach, first appearing like a pod of dolphins leaping and porpoising just outside the kelp line moving very quickly splashing with flashes of dark bodies, only to realize it was the whale when it breached out of the water! This behavior continued for just over an hour, and had reportedly been breaching for a good 30 minutes prior to my sighting. Wow! Each breach requires and enormous amount of energy and a speed of up to 28 kph. The humpback whale breached every 30-90 seconds as it slowly traveled north (west). 42 total breaches, alternating with at least 8 episodes of pectoral flipper slapping sessions lasting up to 90 seconds each and at least 9 incidents of fluking. The whale finally slowed down as it was nearing county line and then that was it…it migrated on low profile, leaving footprints a mile or more away.

Humpback Whale’s pectoral flipper and tip of fluke poking out of the warm 72 degree ocean.
Pectoral flippers of humpback whales are the longest of any cetacean, reaching up to 1/3 of the length of the whale and can be up to 16 feet long! They are made of bones unlike fish fins which perform the same function but are made up of cartilage. The structure is the same or homologous with other animals including bird wings, cat or dogs front legs and human arms which have one long upper bone, two smaller bones followed by wrist bones, then finger bones. They all share a common ancient ancestor but through divergent evolution have widely evolved into four distinct groups of species. The large flippers are scalloped edged with bumps called tubercles which help with the dispersant of the water over the edges to swim more efficiently and navigate sharp turns or to help herd fish into the whales mouth to feed as was recently seen by graduate student Madison Cosmo’s video in 2019 and her findings were published in the Royal Society Open Science.

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