Humpback Whale Facts

Humpback whales are massive animals, nearly the size of a school bus. Humpbacks do not have a hump on their back, the name derives from the large hump that forms in the waters before they take a deep dive in the sea. 

Humpback Whale Facts

Humpbacks are famous for their haunting, melodic songs and for their ability to do acrobatic tricks in the water. The scientific name for a humpback is Megaptera novaeangliae, that means “big-winged New Englander”, for the biggest population of humpback whales are to be found near New England and best known by the Europeans.

  • Size & Weight

    Humpbacks are not the biggest whales; blue whales are the biggest. Humpbacks can grow as long as 18 meters, while weighting up to 40 tons.

  • Flippers

    One of their flippers can grow up to 5 meters, known as the largest appendage in the world.

  • Humpback Tale

    A humpback’s tale is massive and may grow up to 5.5 meters wide.

  • Male versus Female

    Female humpbacks are bigger than male humpbacks.

  • Head Description

    They have rounded heads that are covered with knobs, better known as tubercles.

  • Hair

    Each knob consists of at least one stiff hair, the purpose of the hairs is unknown, but it is considered to be motion detectors.

Humpback Whale Video Facts

Humpbacks are black on their upper side and spotted black and white on their under sides. They have a dorsal fin on their backs, the shape and color of the dorsal fin is unique to each whale. This unique feature is a indicator researchers uses to identify whale migration, sexual maturity, population sizes and behavior patterns.

Humpbacks travel the world, but their specific location depends on the time of the year. They spend summertime near Alaska and during winter months they encounter warmer waters near the equator. Humpbacks travels alone or in small groups, they can travel up to 5000 kilometers between their breeding and feeding grounds. The longest migration that was ever recorded was 18 840 kilometers, a trip that went from America Samoa to the Antarctic Peninsula.

humpback whale facts and distances travelled

Humpback Whale Breaching & More

Breaching is a common behavior taking place in the humpback whale culture. The splashing out of the water may be done to get rid of parasites, communicate with others or just for fun.

Humpbacks are one of 12 species of baleen whales. The deep grooves along their throats identify them from other whales. Humpbacks belong to the kingdom Animalia, they are vertebrata’s and classed as mammalian. Humpbacks are least concern on the Red List of Threatened Species, although they were listed as endangered in 1988. In the 1940’s the population grew up to 35%. These days an estimate of 60 000 humpbacks is to be found around the world. Humpbacks can live up to 50 years. They belong to more than 80 species of cetacea.

Commercial whaling of humpbacks is prohibited by the International Whaling Commission. Japan claims that they hunt whales for scientific reasons, while natives are allowed to kill a limited number of whales, for whaling forms a big part of their culture. Humpbacks are famous for their haunting songs. Only male whales can sing, scientists believe it is done to attract their potential mates. Males sings for hours, all males sing the same song, although each population has a different song. Songs can be heard from 30 kilometers away, the whale song have an audio frequency between 80 and 4000 hertz. Young whales vocalize quietly while travelling with their mothers during migration, vocalization calls is about 40 decibels, while the males sings at about 70 decibels. The “whale whispering” between the mother and calf is to ensure they stay under the radar, away from killer whales.

Humpbacks consist of 270 to 400 fringed overlapping plates hanging from their upper jaws, called baleen plates. The plates are made of keratin. Baleen plates has the same use as human teeth, the plates are black and about 76 centimeters long. Below the mouth are 12 to 36 throat grooves that holds water. Humpbacks filter water, expel the water through their two blow wholes and digest the remaining fish and other foods. A unique characteristic baleens consist of is two blow wholes located on top of their heads. They eat up to 1360 kilograms of food daily. Humpbacks have a diverse diet, they are known to eat fish, krill, salmon, herring, mackerel, capelin and lots of other small prey. Humpbacks use loud vocal sounds to scare the fish on the surface and slap their fins against the water to immobilize them. Once the fish are unable to move the whales will open their mouths and swallow hundreds or thousands of small fish.

The body of a humpback whale is the thickest in the middle and tapes downwards to the head and the flukes. In order to navigate the ocean, turn around and propelling itself through the water, these whales use their long pectoral fins and large flukes.

A female humpback has a baby every two to three years. The newborns are between 3 to 4.5 meters long and can weigh up to a ton. The mother’s milk consists of 45 to 60 percent fat. Calves drink up to 600 liters of milk daily, they only grow until they are ten years old.

Learn More about Whale Watching in South Africa

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Some Whale Watching Tour Operators in South Africa

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