The upper side of the humpback whale is mottled black to gray, and the underside is white. Their color pattern extends all the way to the tail. Whales in the southern hemisphere tend to have larger areas of white than those in the northern hemisphere.
Weight and Length
Humpback whales weigh a massive amount of 25-40 tons, while newborns weigh as little as 1 ton. Their length usually ranges from 48 and 63 feet, with females larger than males. Newborn humpbacks are around 15 feet long.
Humpback whales are omnivores and eat lots of food. They eat tiny crustaceans (mostly krill), plankton, and some small fish. Humpback whales can consume up to 3,000 pounds of food per day!
Humpback whales have very few natural predators in the ocean. There are a few species of sharks that will feed on the sick, the injured, and the young humpbacks. The only other predators of humpback whales, besides humans, are orcas, the killer whale.
Habitat and Migration
During migration, humpback whales stay near the surface of the ocean. When humpbacks are feeding and calving, they prefer shallow waters. They are usually found in warmest waters during calving. In the summer, humpbacks are found in high latitude feeding grounds, such as the Gulf of Maine in the Atlantic, and the Gulf of Alaska in the Pacific. In the winter, they migrate to tropical or subtropical waters, such as the Dominican Republic in the Atlantic, and the Hawaiian Islands in the Pacific. Humpback calving grounds are commonly near offshore reef systems, islands, or continental shores. Humpback whales also have their feeding grounds in cold coastal waters.
Swimming and Breaching
Humpback whales are extremely powerful swimmers. They use their massive tail fin, called a fluke, to go through the water. Humpback whales, unlike others, regularly leap from the water, which is called breaching. Scientists aren't sure if this behavior serves a purpose, such as cleaning pests from the whale's skin, or whether whales do it for fun.
Relationship with Other Humpback Whales
Humpback whales travel in pods, or groups of 2-15 individual humpbacks. Often these humpback whale groups are temporary, or they only stay together for a short time.
Humpback whales are known for their magical songs, which can travel great distances through the ocean. The sequences of these whale songs continue with noises for hours on end. Scientists are studying these humpback whale songs to decipher their meaning.
Reproduction and Gestation
A female humpback whale is pregnant approximately 11-12 months before she gives birth. Female humpback whales generally reproduce every two to three years. Calves are 10- 12 feet in length and usually weigh one to one and a half tons. Calves drink up to 100 pounds of its mother's milk a day for five to seven months. A baby humpback whale stays with its mother for around 12 months. During that time, the female humpback feeds the calf on fat rich milk so it puts on weight very quickly.
Care of Young/ Behavior and Parenting
Female humpbacks nurse their calves for almost a year, though it takes far longer for them to reach full adulthood. Calves do not stop growing until they're ten years old. Female humpback whales protect their calves from predators. The baby humpback learns quickly from its mother with head lunging, breaching, tail slapping, and pectoral slapping. The calf usually stays over or near the mother's head. The calf and mother always stay very close together. Humpback whales can be found near coastlines, feeding on tiny shrimp-like krill, plankton, and other small fish. They migrate annually from summer feeding grounds in the cold to warmer winter breeding waters closer to the Equator.
History of the Whale
All whales, including humpbacks, are believed to have evolved from hoofed mammals such as cows, camels, and sheep some 45 million years ago. The closest land-bound living relative to the humpback whale is the hippopotamus. Humpback whales have become perfectly suited to an aquatic environment throughout their evolution.
Some interesting facts about humpback whales is that every one of them has a unique pattern of pigments and scars on its underside. Another surprising facts is that humpbacks are relatively slow swimmers. They also spend 90 percent of their time beneath the water's surface. The humpback whale's scientific name is Megaptera novaeangliae. Humpbacks have an average lifespan of 30 to 40 years.