Humpback whale

Natural History

Humpbacks come to Monterey Bay from April to December to feed on schooling fishes and krill. Scientists learn to recognize individual animals by the distinctive markings on their flukes, or tails, which they raise high out of the water as they begin their dive.

Humpback whales sometimes hunt by blowing bubbles from their blowholes as they circle toward the surface. The ring of bubbles forms a "bubble net," which keeps shrimplike krill from escaping. When they reach the surface, the whales swim through the mass of krill, mouths wide open.

In addition to their complex feeding methods, humpbacks also exhibit interesting reproductive behaviors. On the breeding grounds the males sing complex songs, with each area having its own dialect. The songs can last up to 20 minutes, and can be heard for over 18 miles (30 km). The exact function of the songs, whether to serenade the females or ward off competing males, is not entirely understood.


Like many of the large whales, humpback populations were decimated by the whaling activities in the early- to mid-1900s and they have yet to fully recover. There may be fewer than 2,000 humpback whales in the North Pacific.

Cool Facts

The Aquarium is a research partner in the Tagging of Pacific Pelagics program which is tagging humpback whales with satellite tags.