Humpback whale

Megaptera novaeangliae
Humpback whale


Size: max 14-18m

Key features:
- Long white pectoral fins
- The head is covered in round tubercles
- White underside to the tail fluke

Humpback whales are rorqual whales which are covered in little fleshy lumps called tubercles. They vary in colour from dark grey to black, but have a lighter underbelly. They have long pectoral fins, up to 5m in length, which are white in colour. They have a tall vertical bushy blow.


Humpback whales are one of the most energetic of the larger whales. They are quite active animals and are regularly observed breaching, lob-tailing and slapping their long pectoral fins on the surface. They are renowned for their elegant complex songs, which are sung by the males during courtship. These songs have been studied intensely and have been found to vary a little year upon year. When they feed, they sometimes feed as a group by using a method called ‘bubble netting’. Here a group of whales create a curtain of bubbles around a group of krill or small fish and trap them inside. Whales will then swim up through the ring of bubbles with mouths open, catching everything in their path.


Humpback whales are found worldwide with distinct seasonal changes in distribution. They typically spend the summer in high latitudes to feed in the cold waters, and winter in the warmer tropics to breed.


Humpback whales numbers were depleted by whalers; however since they became protected in 1966 they have been making a slow recovery. Currently they are vulnerable to human impact through chemical and noise pollution, ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear.

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