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Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale Video

Humpback Whale Breaching
Photographer: Whit Welles

Humpback Whale
© www.pgoimages.com
Photographer: Per-Gunnar Ostby of www.pgoimages.com

Humpback Whale
© www.pgoimages.com
Photographer: Per-Gunnar Ostby of www.pgoimages.com

Humpback Whale Range Map (Worldwide)
Humpback Whale Range Map (Worldwide)

The size of a Humpback Whale compared to an average human
The size of a Humpback Whale
compared to an average human

Humpback Whale Underwater

To listen to Humpback Whale song, click above

Latin Name Megaptera novaeangliae
Conservation Status Vulnerable
Location Worldwide
Colour Dark Blue/Black
Length 13 - 14 m (43 - 46 ft)
Weight 25 - 30 tonnes
(24.6 - 29.5 tons)
Life Expectancy Up to 77 Yrs

Main Characteristics

Humpback Whales are baleen whales and they have a body length between 13 and 14 m (43 - 46 ft) and they weigh between 25 and 30 tonnes (24.6 - 29.5 tons).

They are coloured dark blue/black on their dorsal surface and white on their underside. Their tail flukes are deeply notched and they have large front flippers that can measure up to one third of their total body length. They have bumps on their head, jaw and the leading edge of their flippers and these bumps, along with colour variations on their tail, help to identify individuals.

They have 270 to 400 darkly coloured baleen plates on each side of their mouth. These plates are approximately 76 cms (30 inches) in length and they assist the whale with removing water from its mouth after feeding. Humpback Whales have 16 - 20 prominent ventral grooves that run from their lower jaw to approximately half way along their underside. Their dorsal fin is small and they have a distinctive 3 m (10 ft) blow that they emit when they surface.

Humpback Whales are known to be very energetic. They make graceful, athletic leaps out of the water known as breaching. To breach they create an upward force with their tail that lifts almost all of their body out of the water and when they are in the air they twist and fall on their back with a large splash. They also use their flippers to slap the water, known as flipper slapping, and they raise their flukes out of the water and slap them onto the surface, known as tail lobbing.

Humpback Whales are also extremely vocal. Males engage in "whale song" that consists of various sounds in a low tone that vary in amplitude and frequency. Each whale song typically lasts between 10 and 20 minutes but they can be continuously repeated for hours at a time. Whales that inhabit the same area all sing the same song and each song changes slowly over a period of years.

When migrating they tend to swim at speeds up to 14 km/hr (8.7 mph) but they can reach speeds of 27 km/hr (16.8 mph) if required. They tend to dive for 15 - 20 minutes and they can reach depths of 200 m (655 ft)


Humpback Whales are found in oceans throughout the world except in the Mediterranean Sea, Baltic Sea, Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf.

They tend to live in loose knit groups that inhabit the cold, food-rich waters near the poles during summer, then migrate to warmer, tropical waters to give birth during the winter months. They hold the record for the longest mammalian migration which can be as far as 8,000 kms (5,000 miles).


Humpback Whales feed on krill and small schooling fish such as haddock, herring, salmon, capelin, sand lance, mackerel and pollock. They only feed during the summer, living off their fat reserves during the winter months.

They hunt as a group often using a technique known as "bubble netting" or "bubble net fishing". This involves the group of whales blowing bubbles while swimming in circles around a school of fish. The ring of bubbles encircles the fish and the whales swim in smaller and smaller circles until the fish are confined to a tight area. The whales will then suddenly swim upwards through the bubble net, with their mouths open, taking thousands of fish in one gulp.

This hunting technique can involve a ring of bubbles up to 30 m (100 ft) in diameter and the cooperation of 12 Humpback Whales. Individuals in the group have different tasks which involve blowing the bubbles, diving deep to drive the fish towards the surface or herding the fish into the bubble net by vocalizing.

They are also known to use other feeding methods which include lunging through groups of fish when food is abundant or creating a ring of foam on the surface of the water that surrounds their prey, then diving under it and surfacing with their mouth open.


Humpback Whales breed during the winter months in tropical waters. After a gestation period of 11.5 months the female will give birth to 1 calf. At birth the calf is 4 - 5 m (13 - 16 ft) in length and they weigh in the region of 1,350 kgs (2,976 lbs).

The calf will be fed nutrient-rich milk by its mother until it is weaned at 5 months old. Humpback Whales reach sexual maturity at 4 - 5 years of age and they have a birthing interval of 2 years.


The main predators of Humpback Whales are killer whales and humans.


There are no subspecies of Humpback Whale.

Interesting Facts

Humpback Whales have the longest flippers of any animal.

Researchers have shown for the first time that Humpback Whale calves also make sounds. Find Out More>

Similar Animals

Blue Whale
Fin Whale
Sei Whale
Omura's Whale
Bryde's Whale
Pygmy Bryde's Whale
Common Minke Whale
Antarctic Minke Whale

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