Humpback Whale Facts

Fun facts about our beloved Humpback Whales
  • Humpback whales are enormous creatures — about the size of a school bus. They are known for their haunting and melodic songs and for breaching the water with amazing acrobatic abilities.
  • Humpbacks don’t normally have a hump on their backs; the name comes from the large hump that forms when they arch their backs before making a deep dive into the ocean. The scientific name, Megaptera novaeangliae, means “big-winged New Englander” because the population that swam off New England was the best known to Europeans.
  • Humpback whales are not the biggest whales — that’s the blue whale. Humpbacks can grow to 60 feet (18 meters) long, and they can weigh a whopping 40 tons (about half the size of a blue whale). Their flippers can grow up to 16 feet (5 m) long, which is the largest appendage in the world. Their tails are also massive and grow up to 18 feet (5.5 m) wide. Like most whales, females are larger than males.
  • Humpback whales can launch themselves out of the water in a spectacular motion called breaching. There are theories as to why whales breach. They may be communicating to other whales across vast distances, trying to attract other whales (including a mate), warning off vessels or other mates, cooling off, removing parasites such as barnacles, or just playing! Seen from any distance, this action is one of the most dramatic and awe-inspiring in the animal kingdom.
  • Humpbacks are rorquals, whales which have distinctive throat grooves. They have up to 35 broad ventral throat grooves, extending at least to their navels. Their bodies are more robust than those of other rorquals.
  • During migration, male humpback whales often ‘sing’ complex, lengthy and distinctive songs to communicate their presence to females to entice them to mate. They use syllables and rhyming phrases with a complex sequence of clicks, moans and eerie high-pitched wails that can last for a few moments or an hour. The sounds range from canary-like chirps to deep rumbling sounds that carry for hundreds of kilometres. The ‘songs’ change subtly each year and different humpback populations have different songs.
  • Humpbacks are baleen whales. They don’t have any teeth, and feed by filtering shrimp-like krill between 270-400 baleen plates which hang from the top jaw. They feed in Antarctic waters on krill, but also eat small fish and plankton during their migration south from their breeding areas.
  • Humpback whales were nearly hunted to extinction. The last whaling station in NSW, at Byron Bay, closed in 1962 because so few whales could be found. Humpback whales are now protected throughout Australia