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Humpback Whales



Humpback Whales
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 5 to 7
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   7.81

Vocabulary
     challenging words:    bubble-net, bump-like, flukes, rough-edged, spyhop, enlarge, congregate, worldwide, various, breach, pufferfish, genus, intake, bulky, anglerfish, maximize
     content words:    International Whaling Commission


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Humpback Whales
By Vickie Chao
  

1     Out in the open water, there are many marine animals famous for pulling off some incredible stunts. The octopus, for example, can change the color of its skin to match its surroundings. The pufferfish can enlarge its body to more than twice its normal size. The female anglerfish has a modified spine that resembles a baited fishing rod. The flying fish has wing-like fins that allow it to glide gracefully above the surface. And of course, there is the humpback whale that can breach (leap out of the water), spyhop (poke its head out of the water to have a look around), and lobtail (stick its tail out into the air and slap it on the water's surface). Its acrobatic performance is one of the most amazing shows on Earth!
 
2     Humpback whales have bulky heads topped with bump-like knobs, round bodies, and wide flukes (tails). The undersides of their flukes carry distinctive white markings, which are unique to each individual. Overall, humpback whales measure about 50 feet long and weigh at least 30 tons. (Female humpback whales are slightly larger than their male counterparts.) They have grayish, or even mottled, appearances, especially on their backs. Their underbellies, by comparison, are quite pale, with 14-35 expandable throat grooves running from their chins to their navels. Humpback whales have two big, rough-edged white flippers, taking up nearly one-third of their entire body length. (No other whale species can beat that record!) Because of those unusual flippers, scientists placed humpback whales in the genus of Megaptera, which literally means "giant wings."
 
3     Humpback whales can be found in all the oceans around the world. Every year, they travel tirelessly for thousands of miles between their breeding ground and their feeding range. When they are at their feeding site during the summertime, they devour large quantities of krill, plankton, and small fish. To eat them, humpback whales do not chase aimlessly after their prey. All they need to do is open their mouths wide and suck in a huge amount of water -- thanks to their expandable throat grooves. Once they shut their mouths, they rely on their baleens to perform the incredible. Baleens are comb-like structures that hang from each side of humpback whales' upper jaws. As soon as the animals close their mouths, they begin to expel water at a furious speed. While doing that, they use their baleens to strain out the edibles. Whatever small organisms get trapped behind go straight into their stomachs! At their feeding ground (usually in cooler regions), each humpback whale consumes more than 3,000 pounds of food per day. To maximize the intake, they team up and employ various techniques to round up enough krill, plankton, and small fish for the entire group or pod. One of their favorite tricks is called bubble-net fishing. To do that, the hunting party will blow air through their blowholes and swim rapidly in circles directly beneath, say, a school of fish. As the air bubbles slowly ascend to the surface, they form a gigantic wall around the prey, forcing them to congregate into a huge mass. Now with so much food gathering in front of them, the hunting party disperses and moves in for the kill; everybody gets a fair share of the loot. How smart is that!

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Animal Themes
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Mammals
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Oceans
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