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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae

The humpback whale’s lively behavior makes it a favorite with whale-watchers. The humpback whale has a blue-black body, deeply notched tail fins (flukes) and extremely long, winglike flippers. Its flukes and flippers are often splashed with white markings—the pattern, unique as a fingerprint, is used to identify individuals.

Unlike most baleen whales, humpback whales often trap their prey by lunging upward from below. To concentrate shoals of fish or krill, they often spiral around them while exhaling air. This “bubble-netting” may be carried out by several individuals working as a team.

Humpback whales spend the summer in cold, food-rich waters, moving to lower latitudes to give birth in winter. They often feed near coasts. Although protected, current humpback whale populations are about a fifth of those of pre-whaling days.

Humpback Whale Song

Like all whales, mature male humpbacks use sound to communicate. They produce the longest, most complex sound sequences of any animal, with each “song” lasting up to 30 minutes. The song is heard miles away by other humpback whales. Each regional population has its own song, sung only in the breeding season. To sing, the whale vibrates air inside itself, but exactly how is not known, because whales have no vocal cords.

Oceana works to protect marine mammals such as the humpback whale from becoming bycatch in commercial fisheries.

Humpback Whalezoom image
  • Order Cetacea
  • Length 40–50 ft (12–15 m)
  • Weight 27–33 tons (25–30 metric tons)
  • Habitat Open oceans, from subpolar to tropical
  • Distribution Worldwide, except extreme north and south
Humpback Whale habitat mapzoom image