IUCN threat status:

Least Concern (LC)

Brief Summary

Read full entry

Species Abstract

The Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), is a very large marine mammal, in the family of Rorquals (Balaenoptera), part of the order of cetaceans. The Humpback is a baleen whale, so that instead of teeth, it has long plates which hang in a row (like the teeth of a comb) from its upper jaws. Baleen plates are strong and flexible; they are made of a protein similar to human fingernails. Baleen plates are broad at the base (gumline) and taper into a fringe which forms a curtain or mat inside the whale's mouth. All baleen whales strain huge volumes of ocean water through their baleen plates to capture food: tons of krill, other zooplankton, crustaceans and small fish.

The humpback whale is renowned for its impressive leaping displays and for the mysterious singing of solitary males. Humpback whales are among the best-studied cetaceans, and yet they are among the most mysterious. Their songs and the complex social behaviors that accompany them comprise some of the greatest incompletely understood phenomena. These songs are intricate, with up to nine musical themes. Males may sing for days, changing themes over time, but all the males from one population will sing a similar song. Humpbacks are popular subjects for whale-watching ecotourism. They are readily identified by enormous, wing-like flippers, which are far longer than in any other whale species. They are known for spectacular displays at the surface. They breach, leaping headfirst out of the water; slap the surface with a long flipper; or slam the tail flukes repeatedly. Humpbacks may be the only whales to trap or herd prey into a bunch to make feeding more efficient. They concentrate a school of fish into a stack by blowing columns of bubbles to form a circle around it, and then lunge into the mass to feed.

The robust body is blue-black in colour, with pale or white undersides. The flippers may also be white and are the largest appendage of any animal; reaching up to five metres in length. On the underside of the mouth are 12 to 36 throat grooves, which can expand when filtering water during feeding. Humpbacks have characteristically knobbly heads, covered in many raised lumps (or tubercles) and barnacles. There are two blowholes on the back and the spout of water can appear very bushy. The spreading tail flukes have a distinct indentation in the middle; as the whale undertakes a deep dive it usually arches its back (hence the common name) so that the tail flukes are raised above the water and clearly visible. The pattern on the underside of the flukes is unique to an individual and thus can be used to photo-identify and track individuals.


Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© Encyclopedia of Earth; Encyclopedia of Life

Supplier: C. Michael Hogan


EOL content is automatically assembled from many different content providers. As a result, from time to time you may find pages on EOL that are confusing.

To request an improvement, please leave a comment on the page. Thank you!