Our science activities are inspired today by the new picture book Here Come the Humpbacks by April Pulley Sayre and illustrated by Jamie Hogan. Did you know that humpback whales are found both in the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean? The book follows the migration of a mother humpback and her baby from the Caribbean Sea to the New England coast and back. During the trip the reader learns about the lives of whales and the challenges they face, all the while absorbing new vocabulary. (For a full review, see our sister blog, Wrapped In Foil.)

1. Whale anatomy

Right in the beginning of the book, the words flippers and flukes are used. What do they mean?

The flukes are the lobes of the whale’s tail. There two flukes, one on either side as seen in the photograph below.

(Photograph by Captain Budd Christman, NOAA Corps )

The flukes are important for several reasons. First, they help push the whale through the water as the whale moves its tail up and down.

The whales also use their flukes to slap the water, possibly to communicates with other whales.

For scientists, the flukes are important because each fluke has a distinct color and pattern of notches and grooves and can be used to identify individual whales.

The flippers on each side are used both for swimming and for steering the whale through the water. Humpback whales have extra long flippers compared to some other whales.

Other vocabulary:

  • Blowholes– the opening in the top of the whales head where it breathes
  • Baleen– the fibrous-like material in the whale’s mouth that it uses to filter its food from the water (some other types of whales have teeth).
  • Dorsal fin– the flap that sticks up on the back of the whale, relatively small in the humpbacked whale

Activity suggestions:

Whale tail poster -match the pairs at Hawai’i Marine Mammal Consortium (poster is offered for sale) – or create your own matching game using images from the Internet.

Whale tail pop-up book instructions with .pdf template

2. How big is a humpbacked whale?

Adult female humpback whales weigh about 45 tons and are about 45 feet long. The adult males weigh about 42 tons and are roughly 42 feet long. Compare that to a large school bus, which can be about 40 feet long.

Photograph by Dr. Louis M. Herman – NOAA

Check How Big is Big? for an animated size comparison to a right whale and a ship.

3. Whale behavior – communication

One of the most fascinating aspect of whales is that they “sing” to each other under water.

The Right Whale Listening Network has recordings of both right whales and humpbacks, as well as fish sounds. Fun!

Interested in learning more about humpback whales?

Try these websites:

And don’t forget a good book, like Here Come the Humpbacks by April Pulley Sayre and illustrated by Jamie Hogan

Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing (February 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1580894062
ISBN-13: 978-1580894067

(The book was provided by the publisher for review purposes.)

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.