The Humpback Whale

The Humpback whale is very popular with whale watchers as it is known for its breaching habits. They are also known for their songs that they sing for up to 20 minutes. Killer whales, also known as Orca Whales, prey upon Humpbacks as juveniles, which is evidenced by the scars found on many of these animals. These whales inhabit all major oceans.

Humpback Whale Facts:

  • Scientific name: Megaptera novaeangliae 
  • It is a baleen whale, not a toothed whale. 
  • Baleen plates have bristles attached to them so they work like a comb. They filter out the swallowed water to trap krill, small fish, salmon, mackerel, and herring. 
  • Baleen is made of keratin – just like our fingernails. 
  • They have around 270-400 dark-colored baleen plates on each side of their mouths. 
  • Females are slightly bigger than males by around 6 feet (2 meters). 
  • Newborn calves are 20 feet long (6 meters) and weigh 2 tons (1.8 tonnes). 
  • The Humpback Whale tail is thought to be unique just like the fingerprint of a human. 
  • They have two blowholes. 
  • Humpback Whales are known for their beautiful songs.
  • They can “bubble net” fish just like dolphins and some other baleen whales. They work together, encircling prey inside a net of bubbles.  Then they can take turns swimming at the trapped prey – taking huge gulps of water and food. 
  • Humpbacks are responsible for most of the coolest-looking photos of whales breaching – that is jumping out of the water.  It’s not known why Humpbacks like to do this.  It’s thought to be used either for removing parasites or just because it is fun. 
  • Their name comes from the hump they create as they arch their backs to make a deep ocean dive. 
  • They have the longest appendages in the world – their fins – which grow up to 16 feet (5 m) long. 
  • They are about half the size of a Blue Whale. 
  • They live alone or in small pods of 2-3. 
  • They migrate further than any known mammal on earth. Regular migrations between feeding and breeding grounds are around 3,000 miles (5,000 km). The longest recorded Humpback migration was 11,706 miles (18,840 km). 
  • Slapping the water with their tails is probably done to show dominance and health during mating season, but might serve other communication purposes too. 
  • Only male whales sing. The songs can last for hours. They can be heard up to 20 miles away. 
  • Calves can talk too. It’s called “whale whispering” and it is much quieter than typical adult male Humpback whale song. 
  • They can eat up to 3,000 lbs. (1,360 kg) of food per day. 
  • Mother’s milk is much richer than human milk.  It is 45-60% fat and these cows give their calves up to 158 gallons of it each day. 
  • Their tail alone can be 18 feet wide. 

How smart is a Humpback whale? 

It’s believed that whale communication is one of the most sophisticated forms of all animal communication. They use complex songs and body language to convey wants and needs to each other. 

How long do Humpback whales live?

They usually live around 45-50 years.   

How much does a Humpback whale weigh?

An adult weighs up to 44 tons (39.9 tonnes). That’s nearly six fully grown elephants weighing 15,000 lbs. each! 

How big is a Humpback whale? 

They are roughly as large as a school bus.   

How long is a Humpback whale? 

Generally, 40-60 feet (12-18m) long. Allegedly, the longest measured an astounding 89 feet long – that’s Blue Whale length! 

Do Humpback whales live in Antarctica? 

They do, and in fact, are the most abundant baleen whale seen in nearshore waters around the Antarctic Penninsula. Therefore, of all the whales you might see on an Antarctic cruise, Humpback Whales are the most likely to be spotted – well at least around the Antarctic Peninsula. 

Can a Humpback whale swallow a human? 

It could, but this has never happened and Humpback Whales are not aggressive towards humans. They swallow around 5,000 gallons of water in a single gulp and this is larger than the volume of a human by quite a bit! After swallowing, they expel all this seawater through their two blowholes. 

How long do Humpback whales stay with their mothers? 

They nurse for six months.  A female gives birth once every 2-3 years. The length of the pregnancy is typically 11-12 months. Baby Humpback Whale calves spend approximately one year living with their mothers.  Mother Humpback Whales are called cows. Calves double in length in the first year but continue growing for about the first ten years of their lives. 

How fast is a Humpback whale? 

They can top out at around 15-16 mph (25 kph). They feed at around 1-3 mph (2-5.5 kph). They travel at 3-9 mph (5-15 kph). The fastest humans swim 50 meters is around 5.5 mph. 

Do Humpback whales have predators? 

Babies (calves) and young Humpbacks are occasionally hunted by some Killer Whales (Orcas). Many Humpbacks have scars from Orca attacks, especially on their tails because that is where Orcas aim for when they attempt to pull a young Humpback down into the depths to drown it. 

Humans have historically proven to be far better at hunting Humpback Whales. During the years where whaling was legal, humans eradicated approximately 90% of the Humpback Whale’s population. The population is making a comeback today but is still lower than it historically was. 

How does a Humpback whale sleep? 

Much like dolphins and killer whales. They have to consciously think about breathing so they can only “sleep” half of their brain at a time. 

Where do Humpback whales give birth? 

Hawaii, Japan, and Mexico tend to be favored locations where Humpback Whales usually give birth during the winter months. 

They migrate to colder waters in the summer and that’s a good time to spot them on an Antarctic cruise. The calves also migrate to the Southern Ocean alongside their mothers. 

Recently there has been quite a bit of rare good news for Humpbacks, especially in Antarctic waters where they are experiencing a baby boom. 

How many Humpback whales are left in the world?

Approximately 30,000-40,000 are thought to currently live wild in the world’s oceans. These numbers are likely about 30-35% of what the population used to be prior to whaling. Some estimates have been as high as 80,000 Humpback Whales. They are still threatened, but no longer officially “endangered.” 

Now only a couple of countries allow hunting of Humpbacks for subsistence purposes only and only a couple are caught each year. 

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