Get an up-close look into the lives of humpback whales and the detailed process of rearticulating Humphrey, the Museum’s humpback whale skeleton that hangs in front of the Discovery Zone.
Humpback whales were once on the verge of extinction, but thanks to global conservation efforts their population numbers are slowly increasing. Come and learn about these mysterious and majestic creatures from the inside out.
Journey to the Silver Bank
Humpback whales travel each year to the Silver Bank, part of the Sanctuary for the Marine Mammals of the Dominican Republic, to court, mate and calve.
Watching Whales of the Silver Bank
Operating under a special permit issued by the Dominican Republic, Conscious Breath Adventures takes a limited number of visitors each year to the Sanctuary for the Marine Mammals. Practicing low-impact techniques developed over many years, snorkelers are guided during in-water, eye-to-eye interactions with Humpback whales in their natural environment. Documentation from years of research and whale watching adds to our growing understanding of Humpback behavior and population dynamics.
Captain Gene Flipse photographing the Silver Bank Humpback whales. Photo courtesy of Sally Walton
Captain Gene Flipse photographing the Silver Bank Humpback whales. Photo courtesy of Simon Hutchins/Oceanic Preservation Society
A Humpback whale breaches the water. Photo courtesy of Conscious Breath Adventures
Captain Gene Flipse. Photo courtesy of Captain Gene Flipse
Whales of the Silver Bank
Take a close look at the world of Humpbacks through the lens of Captain Gene Flipse of Conscious Breath Adventures. Flipse has documented whales that gather to court, mate and calve at the Silver Bank, part of the Sanctuary for the Marine Mammals of the Dominican Republic.
A mother Humpback whale nurtures her calf. After a gestation period of nearly one year, a mother will nurse her calf some 50 gallons (190 liters) of rich, viscous milk each day until weaning at about 8-10 months of age. The pair are rarely separated by more than a few yards (meters). Photo courtesy of Captain Gene Flipse/Conscious Breath Adventures
Vibrissae are small white whiskers on the chin of an adult Humpback whale. It is amazing to think this 35-foot-long whale can derive useful sensory input from half-inch whiskers on its chin! Some researchers conclude these whiskers allow the whale to investigate and explore objects much like we would use our fingers in the dark. Photo courtesy of Captain Gene Flipse/Conscious Breath Adventures
A female Humpback whale nurtures her calf. Ideally a mother will give her calf 2-3 months after birth to put on weight and gain strength before starting the long migration from their tropical winter breeding grounds to their temperate summer feeding grounds in the Gulf of Maine. Photo courtesy of Captain Gene Flipse
A resting Humpback whale can accelerate from a standstill to a full breach in just three strokes of its fluke! It is believed that breaching is a way to shed dead skin or dislodge parasites, but there are social interpretations as well, possibly to intimidate a rival or impress a prospective mate. Photo courtesy of Captain Gene Flipse
The grapefruit-sized eye of a Humpback whale is located far back on the head, near the hinge of the jaw. They have great vision both below and above the water’s surface, at distances both near and far due to a reflective membrane behind their retinas, like those of cats, which make their eyes glow in the night. Photo courtesy of Captain Gene Flipse
A female Humpback whale with her young calf. Mother and calf maintain a very close relationship until they part ways nearly a year after birth. Photo courtesy of Captain Gene Flipse/Conscious Breath Adventures
An adult Humpback whale performs a peduncle throw (tail breach) powerfully throwing the muscular rear third of its body sideways, making a huge splash. This whale has unique markings on the underside of its fluke and has only been sighted on winter breeding grounds on the Dominican Republic’s Silver Bank; its summer feeding grounds remain unknown. Photo courtesy of Captain Gene Flipse/Conscious Breath Adventures
Using its prominent pectoral fins to help maneuver, a young Humpback whale calf explores its surroundings while its mother rests behind. Humpback whales have the largest pectoral fins of any species of cetacean (whale), averaging one third of their body length. Photo courtesy of Captain Gene Flipse/Conscious Breath Adventures
An adult Humpback whale performs a spectacular breach using its powerful fluke (tail fin) to launch itself out of the water with a twist to splash down on its back. Many whales breach, but none as much as the Humpback, making them a favorite of whale watchers worldwide. Photo courtesy of Captain Gene Flipse/Conscious Breath Adventures
The knobby protuberances, known as “tubercles,” located on the leading edge of the pectoral fin help to direct the flow of water over the fin, increasing power and efficiency. The smaller white knobs are filter-feeding barnacles that have attached themselves harmlessly to the whale for a free ride through nutrient-rich waters. Photo courtesy of Captain Gene Flipse/Conscious Breath Adventures
A Humpback calf “lobtailing” or slapping its tail fluke (tail fin) on the surface of the water. Each whale has unique fluke markings, like a fingerprint, that can be used for identification. Photo courtesy of Captain Gene Flipse/Conscious Breath Adventures
Commercial whaling decimated Humpback whale populations in the 1800s and early 1900s. Humpbacks were one of the first species protected under the Endangered Species Conservation Act in 1970, and due to recovery only 5 distinct populations are protected today. The species as a whole is doing relatively well and Atlantic Ocean populations are increasing despite modern human threats, including shipping traffic, fishing hazards and sonic cannons (also called seismic air guns) for energy exploration.
Global Whale Conservation
Whales swim the world’s oceans, so their conservation and recovery require action on a global scale. Among the ocean’s top predators, marine mammals play an important role as sentinels of changes in marine ecosystems.
Did you know?
It takes state and federal agencies, fisheries, conservation organizations, tour companies, museums, aquariums and people like you, to create a network of protection! These forces combined inform regulations and help create laws such as the Endangered Species Act, one of the reasons whales are around today.
The Science & Art of Building a Whale
Constructing a whale skeleton gives new life to old bones
It took 7 people about 7 months to piece together the 264 bones of a young male Humpback whale (named Humphrey by popular vote) from the Museum’s Mammalogy Collection. Five missing bones were 3-D printed to complete the skeleton. Nationally, more than 20 people were consulted to accurately reconstruct and interpret the whale.
Exhibit fabricator Mike Adams welded the framework to hang the whale, and was part of the core team that puzzled it together.
A whale skull is carefully lowers onto a table. Florida Museum photo by Kristen Grace
Work in progress. The rib cage of Humpback whale sits in a wood and metal frame as it is pieced together. Florida Museum photo by Kristen Grace
Exhibit fabricator Mike Adams welded the framework to hang the whale, and was part of the core team that puzzled it together. Florida Museum photo by Jeff Gage
Did you know?
The Museum is a state repository for endangered species; there are over 800 partial and full whale skeletons in the Mammal Collection.
Whale of a Year
In 2017, the Museum celebrated its 100th anniversary as the state’s official natural history museum. Humphrey the Humpback whale was a centerpiece of the celebration and is now hanging just outside the Discovery Zone exhibit!
About the Art
Ariel Bowman was inspired to sculpt a scale model of Humphrey the Humpback whale when she saw the skeleton, to capture the beauty of the living whale.
She creates ceramic sculptures that reconnect viewers with their sense of wonder for natural history. She is fascinated by animals that evolved with distinct features, and is inspired by diorama displays. Ariel received her MFA in ceramics from the University of Florida in 2018.