Interesting facts about humpback whales

humpback whales

The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is a species of baleen whale.

They are found in all major oceans and seas around the world.

Humpback whales live in both hemispheres making them to cross over the other side of the world during the feeding and breeding seasons.

The humpback whale has an average lifespan of 45–50 years.

The humpback whale is one of the bigger species of whale. Fully grown males average 13–14 m (43–46 ft). Females are slightly larger at 15–16 m (49–52 ft). Body mass typically is in the range of 25–30 metric tons (28–33 short tons), with large specimens weighing over 40 metric tons (44 short tons).

Humpbacks are mainly black or grey with white undersides to their flukes, flippers and bellies.

humpback whale

One of the most noticeable characteristics of humpback whales is their long flippers.

The long black and white tail fin can be up to a third of body length.

Humpback whales are so called because of the habit of raising and bending the back in preparation for a dive, accentuating the hump in front of the dorsal fin.

Humpbacks are slow swimmers and so allow tourist boats – and in the past, whalers – to get close. They can swim at 5 – 14 km/h (3 – 9 mph) most of the time, but can reach 24 – 26.5 km/h (15 – 16.5 mph) in bursts when required.

humpback whales swiming

The humpback social structure is loose-knit. Typically, individuals live alone or in small, transient groups that disband after a few hours. Groups may stay together longer in summer to forage and feed cooperatively. Longer-term relationships between pairs or small groups, lasting months or even years, have rarely been observed.

Humpbacks feed primarily in summer and live off fat reserves during winter.

Humpback feeding grounds are in cold, productive coastal waters.

Their diet consists mostly of krill, small fish and plankton.

humpback whales feeding

The humpback has the most diverse hunting repertoire of all baleen whales.

Humpback whales hunt by direct attack or by stunning prey by hitting the water with pectoral fins or flukes.

Humpback whales use a hunting technique known as bubble netting. Bubble netting takes a group effort and each whale plays a specific role in capturing fish. Some whales will swim around the fish and blow bubbles, which causes the fish to form into a tight group, while others make loud noises scaring the fish and causing them to move towards the surface of the water. Once the fish move to the surface they lunge towards the fish with their mouths open and try to eat as many as they possibly can.

humpback whale bubble net

An average-sized humpback whale will eat up to 1,360 kilograms (3,000 pounds) of plankton, krill and small, schooling fish each day during the feeding season.

Humpback whales actually have no teeth! They have baleen, filter-feeder system inside their mouths, to strain out water and keep in plankton, krill and small fish to swallow and eat.

A humpback whale has two blow holes on the top of its head.

On average, adult humpbacks surface every 7-15 minutes to breathe but can remain submerged for up to 45 minutes.

humpback whales breathing

Whales have to be conscious to breath. This means that they cannot go into a full deep sleep, because then they would suffocate. They have “solved” that by letting one half of their brain sleep at a time. This has been determined by doing EEG studies on dolphins.

Humpback whales make sounds to communicate, such as grunts, groans, “thwops”, snorts and barks.

Humpback whales are known for their magical songs, which travel for great distances through the world’s oceans.

Males produce a complex song lasting 10 to 20 minutes, which they repeat for hours at a time. Songs can be heard 20 miles (30 km) away. Its purpose is not clear, though it may have a role in mating.

Humpbacks don’t have vocal chords; their songs are most likely produced by circulating air through the tubes and chambers of their respiratory system.

Humpback whales make extensive seasonal migrations between high latitude summer feeding grounds and low latitude wintering grounds. Winters are spent mating and calving in warm sub-tropical waters, with an annual migration back to colder waters to feed.


Humpback whales travel great distances during their seasonal migration, the farthest migration of any mammal. The longest recorded migration was 18,840 kilometers (11,706 miles), with a trek from American Samoa to the Antarctic Peninsula.

Humpback whales have complicated courtship behaviours. Often, many males will surround a single female hitting each other in a competition to get close to her.

Females typically breed every two or three years. The gestation period is 11.5 months.

The 11.5 month gestation period allows the female whale to return to its warmer, safer mating environment where it can bear its young, nurture it and prepare for the long migration trip back to its feeding grounds.

The peak months for birth are January, February (northern hemisphere), July and August (southern hemisphere).

humpback whale mother and baby

Newborn calves are roughly the length of their mother’s head. At birth, calves measure 6 meters
(20 feet) at 2 short tons (1.8 t).

Mothers and their young swim close together, often touching one another with their flippers with what appear to be gestures of affection. Females nurse their calves for almost a year, though it takes far longer than that for a humpback whale to reach full adulthood.

Calves can drink as much as 600 litres of milk per day. Humpback milk is 50% fat and pink in color. Over the course of several months they can develop a thick layer of blubber which helps protect them from the cold waters as they travel back towards the polar ice caps during their feeding season.

Today there are at least 80,000 humpback whales world-wide, however at one point these marine mammals were considered highly endangered due to excessive hunting and commercial whaling.

humpback whale jump

Since then they have made a huge comeback and are no longer considered a concern from a conservation stand point.

Analyses of whale songs in the 1960s led to worldwide media interest and convinced the public that whales were highly intelligent, aiding the antiwhaling advocates.

It is known for breaching and other distinctive surface behaviors, making it popular with whale watchers.

Scientists aren’t sure if this breaching behavior serves some purpose, such as cleaning pests from the whale’s skin, or whether whales simply do it for fun.

Its scientific name Megaptera novaeangliae means “big winged New Englander” because of its long flippers that look like wings when it breaches and because it was first described in New England.