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Humpback Whale

Background - 8 January, 2009

Estimated Global Population: aproximately 60,000. Oceania populations are listed as endangered by the IUCN. 

Ways to identify this species: dark skin with white on their flippers and belly


Adult males measure 12.2-14.6m, adult females measure 13.7-15.2m. They weigh 22,680-36,287 kg.

Humpbacks are seasonal migrants, breeding in sub tropical or tropical waters during the winter and feeding in the nutrient rich polar waters during the summer.

Scientists identify humpbacks by the markings on their tails. Their flippers are 1/3 of their body length which is why they get their genus name Megaptera meaning "big wings".

During the winter, male humpback whales sing long complicated tunes which may be a method to attract females.

Each whale can eat up to 1,360 kg of food a day.


Until the early 20th century, humpbacks were considered too large and fast to be pursued by most whaling vessels.  However, with the introduction of faster whaling ships and harpoon guns, whalers began targeting humpbacks.  By the time commercial whaling was banned, humpback populations had declined to only 10% of their original size.

Humpback whales have been recovering since the moratorium commercial whaling, but they are still threatened by entanglement in fishing nets and by collisions with ships. In addition, Japan announced plans to resume "scientific" whaling of humpback whales in 2007 but they delayed this plan during the 2007-2008 due to a global outcry.

Humpbacks have been shown to abandon breeding grounds and migratory routes when military sonar is being used nearby. This and other sources of human-generated noise in the oceans are a habitat concern for humpbacks.