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Nature Explores a Coming-of-Age Story About a Humpback Whale –

To breach or not to breach. Or more important, how to breach and when to breach. These are key questions for a young humpback whale as she spends her first year learning the lessons of whale life from her mother. Nature journeys with the young whale from the warm, subtropical waters of Hawaii to the cold, bountiful seas off the coast of Alaska, as she finds her way and takes her place in the world of humpbacks. Nature “Fellowship of the Whales” airs Saturday, August 20, 2011 at 6 p.m. on Eight . Academy Award-winning actor F. Murray Abraham narrates the program.

“Fellowship of the Whales” begins in the calving grounds for humpbacks, off the coast of Hawaii, where a mother whale gives birth to a baby she has carried for nearly 12 months, and which now weighs a ton and a half. Hawaii is the winter home of humpbacks, where the warm waters and protected bays and coves give shelter to newborn calves and their mothers. It is here that the baby whale will take her first breath and learn to use her flippers and tail to communicate with other whales, to protect herself and to proclaim her presence in the world.

This is also where the humpbacks mate — and males fight for females with whom to mate. Young mothers move away from the danger zone with their newborns as huge males show off for females and jostle with other males for the best positions, defending a chosen female from the others. Behind a cloud of bubbles, the dominant male will father a calf.

Feeding on her mother's milk, the young female grows quickly, gaining about a hundred pounds a day. When she is ready, she and her mother will join a long procession of whales heading 2,500 miles north to summer feeding grounds. Food is not concentrated enough in Hawaiian waters to satisfy humpback whales; while the calf has been gaining weight, her mother has been losing it — she hasn't fed for more than four months.  

Along the way are more lessons to learn, including all the dangers of the open sea. When the calf and her mother arrive, she will learn how humpbacks cooperate in this new environment to take full advantage of the superabundance of whale food available here. For the summer, all of the whales will feast on krill and herring, one enormous mouthful after another. By November, the whales begin their return to the south.

The young female is twice as long and eight times as heavy as when her journey began. When mother and daughter reach Hawaii, the mother will mate again and the calf will be on her own, putting to good use all that she has learned, ready to take her place in the fellowship of whales.

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