Humpback Whale

(Megaptera novaeangliae)
Humpback Whale Santa Barbara Channel

Breaching Humpback Whale  - Photo Credit: Adam Ernster

The humpback whale is one of the largest whale species. It is a type of baleen whale and is rather popular with whale watchers for its myriad of surface behaviors. The humpback whale is found around the world, and they tend to spend their summer months in polar waters, where they feed. They migrate to tropical and subtropical waters in order to breed and give birth. When you book one of our whale watching tours, you can see humpback whales seasonally.

The humpback whale tends to be between 39 and 52 feet when they are fully grown and weigh as much as 30 tons. The humpback whale gets its name from its rather unique body shape, and they have long pectoral fins, which are the longest fins of any of the marine cetaceans proportional to their body size. They also have a knobby head. It is unknown why their pectoral fins are so large, but it may relate to temperature control when migrating between such vastly different climates.

The humpback whale's black and white tail fin is so long that it can be up to one-third of their body length. The tail flukes are quite useful in identifying individuals. The patterns between scars and the amount of black versus white coloration on the tail fluke helps to make identifying individuals possible. There are projects around the world that maintain photographic catalogues of the whales.

The humpback whale feeds on a variety of marine life. In addition to the krill it consumes as a baleen whale, they will also feed on small schooling fish, including Pacific salmon, herring, and haddock. Some have stationed themselves for opportunistic feeding near fish hatcheries. Their method of hunting features a direct attack or hitting the water and stunning their prey.

Humpback whales are most known for their breaching behaviors, although they exhibit other surface behaviors. In addition, males produce a song, and all males in the group will make the same song, which is complex and lasts 10 to 20 minutes. They will repeat it for hours on end. The purpose is unknown but may induce estrus in females.