Humpback whale
Humpback whale breach Humpback whale breach

Animal Facts

  • Size

    to 62 feet (19 m), 53 tons (48,100 kg)

  • Relatives

    other baleen whales; Order: Cetacea; Family: Balaenoptiidae

Natural History

Humpback whales are known for their distinctive, knobby heads and spectacular breaching displays. Animated acrobats, they're capable of launching their school-bus sized bodies entirely out of the water. A species of baleen whale, humpbacks migrate thousands of miles annually from their summer feeding grounds off the coast of California and Oregon to warmer winter breeding waters closer to the Equator. They have the most complex and varied songs of any whale species. Their haunting calls carry for miles beneath the sea.


In Monterey Bay

The humpbacks that visit our bay spend their winters in the warm waters near Costa Rica. Humpbacks, including mothers with newborn calves, travel thousands of miles to feast on krill and schooling fish in our waters. These mega mammals are in the bay from January through November. Often spotted by whale watching boats, humpbacks can sometimes be seen from the Aquarium's ocean-view decks. The unique white patches on their tail flukes, combined with notches in the flukes and other unique markings, make it possible to identify individual humpback whales, and thus track their movements across their entire lifespan. We see some whales return to the bay year after year.


Conservation

Hunted to the brink of extinction, it's believed that humpbacks were reduced to less than 10 percent of their original numbers before a hunting moratorium was introduced in 1966. They were listed on the Endangered Species Act in 1973. Current threats to humpback whales include ship strikes, entanglement from fishing gear and harvest.


Cool Facts

  • Instead of teeth, this filter-feeder has baleen plates that overlap to form a dense net used to strain millions of small shrimplike animals.
  • Humpbacks work as a team when hunting for schooling fish. Once underwater, several humpbacks encircle the fish with a "bubble net"—making the fish believe they are trapped in a net of bubbles. Others position themselves beneath the school of fish and then rise, forcing the fish toward the surface. All the humpbacks involved in this effort then lunge up through the concentrated school of fish, feasting on thousands of prey in a single gulp with their cavernous mouths.


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