Marine Mammals

Humpback Whale Humpback Whale
Megaptera novaeangliae


To 53' (16.2 m). Robust, narrowing rapidly to tail; mostly black, belly sometimes white, flippers and underside of flukes nearly all white, baleen plates black with black or olive-black bristle. Top of head and lower jaw with string of fleshy knobs or protuberances randomly distributed; paired blowholes on top of head; distinctive, rounded projection on tip of lower jaw. Flippers very long, front edges scalloped. Dorsal fin small, variably shaped, placed on small hump slightly more than two-thirds of way back from head. Flukes deeply notched, concave, rear edges scalloped. Blow wide, balloon-shaped.

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.

Humpback Whale
Humpback Whale


Along coast; usually on continental shelf or island banks; sometimes in open seas.


Migratory. In Atlantic from N. Iceland and W. Greenland south to West Indies, including N. and E. Gulf of Mexico. In Pacific from Bering Sea to S. Mexico.


The median rostral ridges are not as obvious in the Humpback Whale as in other members of the family. Humpback Whales migrate seasonally and feed on krill and small schooling fishes. They are known to concentrate the food by forming a bubble curtain, created by releasing air bubble curtain, created by releasing air bubbles while swimming in a circle beneath the water surface. Humpback Whales often "sing," vocalizing a long series of repeated phrases; the vocal patterns are apparently specific to separate populations of whales but may vary from year to year. It is possible that individual animals can be recognized by some of their sounds. Humpbacks sometimes leap clear of the water and may be seen slapping their flukes or a flipper on the surface.