Quick and Cool Facts
As described by the "FAO Species Identification Guide: Marine Mammals of the World", the the humpback whales flippers are extremely long (up to one-third of the body length) with a series of bumps, including 2 more prominent ones in consistent positions on the leading edge, more-or-less dividing the margin into thirds. The flukes have a concave, serrated trailing edge, and the dorsal fin is low and broad based (usually sitting on a hump). The head has a single median ridge, and the anterior portion of the head is covered with many bumps (each containing a single sensory hair). The body is black or dark grey dorsally and may be white ventrally, but the borderline between dark and light is highly variable and seems to differ by population. The flippers are white on the ventral side and vary from all-white to mostly black on the dorsal surface. The ventral side of the flukes also varies from all-black to all-white. There are 270 to 400 black to olive baleen plates, and 14 to 35 ventral pleats extending back to the navel or beyond. The blow is rather low and bushy for a balaenopterid, reaching only 3 m. It may sometimes appear V-shaped. At close range, the humpback is one of the easiest whales to identify. At a distance, however, there can be some confusion with other large whales, especially blue and sperm whales. When a closer look is obtained, humpbacks are generally unmistakable. As far as size, the adult humpback whales are 45 to 56 in length, with females being about 6 feet longer than males on the average.Newborn calves are 16 to 18 feet in length and weigh up to one ton. Weights of at least 35 tons or 70, 000 pounds are attained by adults. Individual humpback whales can be identified using photographs of the distinctive markings on the undersides of their flukes.2
Humpbacks have very complicated courtship behaviors and many male humpbacks can surround a female and compete with each other to get close to the female.Sometimes the competition involves males lunging at and bashing into each other. Males also appear to compete for access to estrus females, by using their now well-known complex songs as part of their breeding display. At the end of the mating and calving season, humpback whales migrate to cold, productive waters to feed.5
Humpback whales are now protected by the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, making it illegal to harass or kill a humpback whale in United States' waters. In addition, the International Whale Commission gave humpback whales worldwide protection status in 1966. Since then it has been illegal to hunt humpback whales anywhere in the world. Steps are also being taken to try to reduce ship collisions and fishing gear entanglement.
In August 2008, the IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, changed humpback's status from Vulnerable to Least Concern, although two subpopulations remain endangered. The United States, through a review conducted by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, is considering listing separate humpback populations, so smaller groups, such as North Pacific humpbacks, which are estimated to number 18,000-20,000 animals, might be delisted. This is made difficult by humpback's extraordinary migrations, which can extend the 5,157 miles from Antarctica to Costa Rica.1,4,6
References and Additional Information
Last updated: July 15, 2016