The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is large species of baleen whale and a member of the rorqual family, which also includes blue whales and minke whales. They are recognized for their long, complex songs and seemingly playful behavior.
Humpbacks are extremely large animals. Most measure 40-50 feet in length and weigh 20-40 tons; in other words, roughly the size of a city bus. Their flippers alone can be up to one third the length of their bodies. Humpback whales are black on the upper (dorsal) side and a mottled mixture of white and black on the under (ventral) side. The particular pattern of white and black is specific to each animal and can be used as a way to indentify individuals.
Humpback whales occur in every ocean in the world and travel constantly from their summer polar feeding grounds to warmer equatorial waters for calving during the winter. As baleen whales, humpbacks feed primarily on plankton, krill and small fish. They feed by gulping huge amounts of water and prey; the prey becomes entangled in the baleen plates and the water is then expelled. On average, humpback whales eat one and a half tons of plankton and krill each day.
Humpbacks reach sexual maturity at 6-10 years of age and will usually give birth every 2-3 years after a gestation period of 12 months. Humpback whale calves can be as long as fifteen feet and weigh 2000lbs at birth; they depend on their mother’s milk for the first year of life.
Before it was outlawed in 1966, approximately 200,000 humpback whales – over 90% of the population – were taken by commercial whaling in the 20th century. Since then, the population has recovered from just 5,000 individuals in the 1960s to an estimated current worldwide population of 80,000. Humpback whales live for 45-100 years on average.
HUMPBACK WHALE FACTS
Humpback whales are known to leap completely out of the water and land with an enormous splash. Scientists are unsure if this behavior serves a purpose or if it’s just for fun.
Some humpbacks may sing continuously for more than 24 hours.