Humpback whales are distinguished by their long pectoral fins (which can reach up to 5 m in length), and by their knobbly head (these “tubercles” are actually hair follicles).
They are also well known for their aerial displays; they are often observed breaching (jumping out of the water), lobtailing (slapping the tail on the water’s surface), pectoral fin slapping (slapping the pectoral or “arm” fins on the water’s surface) and spyhopping (poking their heads vertically out of the water).
Humpback whales are especially active when they are in their breeding grounds in tropical waters. It is here that they can also be heard singing beautiful and haunting melodies. These songs are performed by the males of the species and are thought to function as a way of showing their suitability to the females.
Humpback whales spend the winter months in the warmer breeding grounds and carry out long migrations to spend the summer months feeding on plankton in the cold polar waters. The scientific name Megaptera novaeangliae means ‘big winged New Englander’ which refers to the long wing-like pectoral fins and the fact that this species was first described in New England.
The Azores are along the northern hemisphere migration route of a small population that breeds in Cape Verde and feeds around Norway (we have photo ID matches between Cape Verde, the Azores and Norway). Humpback whales are not sighted in the Azores as frequently as other baleen whale species (the three most encountered baleen whales are the fin whale, blue whale and sei whale).
Male: 17 m
Female: 19 m
Calf: 4 – 5 m
Female: 40,000 kg
Calf: 1,000 – 2,000 kg
Global population: c.63,000 (population trend increasing)
Status: Least Concern
Diet: Krill, small schooling fish
Baleen: 270 – 400 pairs (grey)
Longevity: Up to 48 years
Breeding age: Unknown
Gestation: 1 year
Nursing: 1 year
In other languages:
Spanish: Ballena jorobada
French: Baleine à bosse
Russian: Dlinnorukyi polosatik, gorbach
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