Whale-watching in Delaware is an exciting adventure that captivates the imagination of many nature lovers. In this article, you will find pictures and descriptions of the three types of whales found in Delaware. The Short-finned Pilot Whale, known for its tight-knit family groups, is often seen on whale-watching excursions. The Humpback Whale is one of the most wide-ranging whales in Delaware, following the same migration patterns year after year. And the Fin Whale, the fastest swimmer among the great whales, feasts on krill and tiny fish. These magnificent creatures continue to thrive in Delaware waters, although their populations still face the danger of extinction.
Short-finned Pilot Whale
The Short-finned Pilot Whale, scientifically known as Globicephala macrorhynchus, is a species of whale that can be found in the waters of Delaware. These whales are known for their distinctive physical characteristics. Adults can grow to be 12 to 24 feet long and weigh between 2,200 to 6,600 pounds. They have a dark gray to nearly black color, with slightly lighter gray patches on their back and chest. One identifying feature of the Short-finned Pilot Whale is its blocky, square head and lack of a rostrum (nose).
Habitat and Distribution
Short-finned Pilot Whales are found in both tropical and temperate oceans and are known to frequent the waters near the continental shelf. They are nomadic creatures and tend to travel to areas with favorable hunting and weather conditions. In Delaware, these whales can be seen in deep waters off the coast.
One of the most interesting aspects of Short-finned Pilot Whales is their social behavior. These whales live in tight-knit family groups called pods. They spend their entire lives with their family pod, living, playing, and hunting together. However, during social gatherings, they mate with members of other pods. This social behavior makes them one of the most social types of whales in Delaware.
Sadly, Short-finned Pilot Whales are often involved in mass strandings. These mass strandings occur when a large number of whales become stranded on beaches or shallow waters. The exact reasons for these mass strandings are unclear, but it is believed to be related to their close social bonds. Pilot whales, including Short-finned Pilot Whales, are known for their inability to abandon their pod members, even in times of disaster. This loyalty and social bond may result in the entire pod becoming stranded when one member is in distress.
The Humpback Whale, scientifically known as Megaptera novaeangliae, is another species of whale that can be seen in Delaware’s waters. These majestic creatures are known for their impressive size and distinctive physical features. Adult Humpback Whales can reach lengths of up to 60 feet and weigh up to 40 tons. They have a black coloring, with white markings on their belly and pectoral fins. The fins are wavy, and the nose is covered in bumpy protrusions. The belly of a Humpback Whale is often ridged.
Humpback Whales are known for their extensive migration patterns. They travel from one feeding ground to another, covering large distances. For example, the same Humpback Whales that can be observed feeding in the waters around Alaska during the summer months travel to Hawaii during the winter months. These predictable migration patterns make Humpback Whales a popular sight on whale-watching expeditions.
One of the most exciting aspects of observing Humpback Whales is their showy behavior. These whales are known to breach high out of the water, slapping their bodies and fins against the surface. This behavior is believed to be a form of communication with other whales, as the loud sounds produced during breaching can travel long distances underwater. Witnessing these impressive displays of acrobatics is a highlight for many whale watchers.
Humpback Whales primarily feed on krill, which are tiny crustaceans similar to shrimp. These whales do not have teeth like some other marine creatures. Instead, they have baleen, which are hair-like plates that hang down from their upper jaws. Humpback Whales take in large gulps of water, capturing thousands of krill in their mouths. They then filter the water out through the baleen plates, trapping the krill inside. This feeding technique allows them to consume large amounts of krill in one go.
The Fin Whale, scientifically known as Balaenoptera physalus, is the third type of whale found in Delaware’s waters. These whales are known for their remarkable size and sleek appearance. Adult Fin Whales can reach lengths of 75 to 85 feet and weigh between 40 to 80 tons. They have a light gray-brown color across their back and white on their underside. A wavy pattern forms where the two colors meet. The Fin Whale has a remarkably slender and streamlined body for its large size.
Fin Whales are known as the fastest swimmers among the great whales. This ability likely evolved as a way for them to evade predation, especially from orcas that work together to hunt and kill young or vulnerable individuals. Despite their speed, Fin Whales primarily feed on krill, as well as schools of tiny fish and squid.
Similar to Humpback Whales, Fin Whales also have baleen plates instead of teeth. They use a feeding technique called lunge feeding, where they accelerate to speed through a tightly-grouped ball of prey. This allows them to swallow as many prey items as possible. Fin Whales feed on krill, fish, and squid, using their large mouths to capture their prey. Their feeding habits make them efficient hunters in the ocean.
Whaling and Conservation
Unfortunately, Fin Whales were heavily hunted during the 19th and 20th centuries, leading to a severe decline in their population. Their fast swimming pace and preference for offshore waters helped them avoid predation during the early years of whaling. However, as whaling techniques modernized, they became victims of the industry. Conservation efforts have been put in place to protect and conserve the Fin Whale population. While their numbers have somewhat rebounded, they still face the threat of extinction throughout their range. Protecting and conserving these magnificent creatures is crucial for maintaining the balance of marine ecosystems.
In conclusion, Delaware’s waters are home to three fascinating types of whales – the Short-finned Pilot Whale, Humpback Whale, and Fin Whale. Each species has its own distinguishing characteristics, social behaviors, and feeding habits. Observing these extraordinary creatures in their natural habitat is a truly awe-inspiring experience. However, it is important to remember the importance of conservation to ensure the long-term survival of these magnificent marine mammals.