22 January 2024
Released on 8 January, a new stamp issue from the Norfolk Islands illustrates the Humpback whale. Two stamps and a miniature sheet incorporating the two stamps have been produced for the issue.
Although several species of whale frequent the waters around Norfolk Island, the most significant in terms of the island’s whaling history is the Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae).
Adult humpbacks can grow up to 17m in length and weigh up to 40 metric tonnes. The species is notable for the complex song of male adults, its spectacular breaching behaviour, where animals leap clear of the water, and for its flipper and tail slapping. The humpback has a distinctive body shape, with long pectoral fins and tubercles, dark bumps, around its mouth.
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Valued for its rich oil, the species was hunted almost to extinction in the 19th and early-20th centuries, with many Norfolk Island families engaged in the whaling industry. Today, humpback whales are protected.
The animals undergo long seasonal migrations every year when they travel thousands of kilometres from feeding grounds in Antarctic waters to breed and calve in the warm tropical seas around New Caledonia.
During December to mid-March, while in Antarctica, humpback whales feed on krill to sustain them for their long journey north. Then from mid-March to early April, and depending on sex and maturity, the whales leave in groups at different times. These groups follow routes up the coast of eastern and western Australia and eastern New Zealand. They then breed and give birth in the subtropical and tropical waters of Australia and the South Pacific Islands. Other groups from Antarctica travel up the east and west coast of South America and Africa.
On average, humpback whales travel approximately 1,500km each month, resting in bays and inlets on their journey north. Usually, whales are first spotted along the coast of Australia and New Zealand around May.