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Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae


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Humpback Whale
credit: NOAA

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Family: Balaenopteridae, Rorquals view all from this family

Description Dark whale with remarkably long, knobby flippers. Top of flippers are dark in the Pacific race and white in the Atlantic race. Head is knobbed with tubercles; projection under chin may grow with age. Dorsal fin varies from low and stubby to high and curved. Pattern of white on flukes and shape, size, and scarring of dorsal fin allows identification of individual whales; end of tail is serrated. Widely spaced throat grooves help distend mouth for filter feeding. Blow is low and bushy.

Dimensions 14-17m, 25,000-45,000kg

Endangered Status The Humpback Whale is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as endangered in its range along the U.S. coastline (Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California in the Pacific; Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas in the Atlantic and Gulf). Like the other great whales, the Humpback was killed in great numbers by the whaling industry. It was not often targeted by the early New England whalers, but because of its coastal distribution and its relative slowness, the Humpback was greatly exploited by the early-20th-century shore-based whaling industry. The species has been under international protection since 1944, and all hunting was halted by 1966. Its numbers have recovered considerably, but it still faces numerous obstacles. Humpbacks have died after becoming entangled in fishing gear or colliding with ships, and habitat degradation and the depletion of food resources are a constant threat to this species.

Breeding Mating and calving occur in tropical and subtropical waters in winter.

Habitat Offshore waters

Range New England, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Florida, Texas, California, Northwest, Eastern Canada, Western Canada, Alaska

Discussion Most active and acrobatic of the large whales. Unique feeding technique involves the release of columns of bubbles that encircle schools of fish and contain them so the whales can lunge into the center of the bubble net and engulf large numbers at once. They feed extensively in summer in productive cold high-latitude waters, and do not eat during the winter breeding season. This Endangered species migrates along both coasts between summer Arctic waters and winter southern waters, where it is among the most familiar of the great whales.