Humpback whale

Megaptera novaeangliae

Appearance

Size: max 15m

Key feature: Fleshy tubercles.

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.

Behaviour

Humpback whales usually travel in groups of 1 – 3 but are occasionally seen in much large groups when feeding. They are very acrobatic and active, often breaching and landing on their back. They have also been seen tail-lobbing and splashing their flippers on the surface water. 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.

Distribution

Humpbacks are distributed world wide. They feed in polar and temperate waters in the summer then migrate to the tropics in the winter to breed. They are occasionally seen off the south west of Ireland and the UK. ORCA surveyors have seen humpback whales in the North Sea, English Channel, Irish Sea, Bay of Biscay and further afield in Iceland and off Nova Scotia.

Threats

Humpback whales numbers were depleted by whalers; however since they became protected in 1966 they have been making a slow recovery. Other human impacts upon humpback whales include pollution, and prey depletion due to overfishing.

View larger map

To view this map full screen please click the link 'view larger map' at the top of the map. You can zoom in by using the scroll on your mouse or using the + and - buttons on the map. Click and drag the map to move it around and see different areas. The arrow on the top left of the map will bring out a legend for you. You can click on each icon on the map to find out the date, time, latitude, longitude, route, vessel, species, and group size seen for that species at that point.