Wildlife Fact Sheets

Humpback whale

Humpback whale

Humpback whale

Megaptera novaeangliae

  • Life Span
    80 to 90 years
  • Habitat
    I spend most of my time in near-shore waters.
  • Range
    You can find me swimming in the ocean all over the world. Major populations are found in the North Pacific, North Atlantic and in the Southern and Indian Oceans.
  • Preferred Food
    I may be big, but I like my food small. I feed on tiny critters like krill, small fish and plankton.


I’m pretty hard to miss–I can grow to be bigger than a school bus and weigh 40 tons! If my size weren’t enough to catch your attention, I’m also known for my acrobatics. I can use my powerful fluke, or tail fin, to launch myself out of the water. This is called breaching, and is a favorite of whale-watching tours around the world (what can I say? I’m a star!). Scientists suspect we breach and slap our fins and flukes on the surface as a way of communicating.

We also communicate through our iconic “songs.” Our songs are longer and more intricate than any others in the animal kingdom! Only males sing, and all members of a group sing the same song at the same time. These songs consist of whistles and low moans and gradually change over time (it would get boring singing the same song over and over!).

Did You Know?

We reach sexual maturity between four and 10 years old, after which females birth a calf once every couple of years. Calves are between 13 and 16 feet long when they’re born, and double their length after just one year.

Status and Conservation

We’re really world travelers. Every year, humpback whale populations migrate from cooler feeding grounds to warmer breeding grounds. The warm, tropical climate is perfect for mating and giving birth. Each humpback whale population has its own migration route, and those who travel from Antarctica to northern South America have the longest migration of any mammal alive!

Unfortunately, our extensive travels expose us to a wide variety of threats. Because of our large size and slow speed, we used to be a favorite of the whaling industry and were almost driven extinct in the mid-1900s. Commercial whaling bans allowed our populations to recover, but we still struggle with pollution, vessel strikes and entanglement in marine debris. Also, because we rely on noise to communicate (remember our famous songs?), increased noise from human activity such as drilling and increasing vessel traffic  can disrupt foraging, masking the sounds we use to communicate and locate prey. Accounting for our migration routes when planning shipping routes, offshore wind,  and other ocean uses could go a long way to ensuring we make it to our destination safely.

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