HumpBack Whale

About the Species


  • The humpback has a distinctive body shape, generally black with a lighter underbelly. They have long, white pectoral fins and a knobbly head covered in tubercles
  • They have a lifespan of about 45-50 years
  • They can grow up to 18m long and weigh up to 36.6 tons
  • Humpbacks can be identified by their tail flukes as each fluke is unique to that individual
  • They are baleen whales and feed mainly on krill and small schooling fish such as juvenile Atlantic and Pacific salmon, herring, capelin and American sand lance, as well as Atlantic mackerel, pollock, haddock and Atlantic menhaden in the North Atlantic.


  • Humpbacks are very vocal whales, making many noises such as moans, groans, cries, and snores.
  • They are famous for their whale song which can last from 5-35 minutes. They can repeat this song for many hours and the longest recorded is 22 hours!
  • The songs have been known to change in different regions of the world and undergo distinctive changes throughout the year.

Habitat and distribution

  • The Humpback Whales in the northern Atlantic are found off the south shores of Bermuda in the spring, as they travel from the Caribbean to New England, the Maritime provinces of Canada, Greenland, Iceland, and even Norway.
  • They have one of the longest migrations of any mammal on the planet. Some populations swim 5,000 miles from tropical breeding grounds to colder, more productive polar feeding grounds.
  • Humpback whales can travel at speeds of 5 m/ph. but, during their long journey they average only 1 m/ph, socialising and resting along the way.
  • The main reasons for seasonal migration is due to water temperature, climate change, depth, salinity, topography of ocean floor, and where they have the most abundance of food.


  • Humpbacks become reproductively mature between 4-8 years old.
  • South Atlantic Humpback Whales tend to breed off the coast of Brazil.
  • The North Atlantic humpbacks breed in the Caribbean in places like the Silver Bank Whale Sanctuary off the Dominican Republic.
  • They typically breed from November to March in warm tropic waters.
  • Humpback whales give birth to a single calf every 2-3 years and gestation lasts around 11 months.
  • The calf is usually 3-4m long and can weigh up to 1 ton (907kg) at birth and will feed on its mother’s milk for up to one year.


  • Humpback Whales feed for only four months out of the year.
  • On average, a humpback will eat at least twice a day, consuming between 3,000 to 5,500 lbs of food.
  • An adult humpback whale forages for food for 90% of its waking hours every day.
  • Humpbacks typically hunt in packs, often in groups of a dozen or more. They can directly attack schools of fish or krill, sifting them through their baleen. Occasionally, they will hit the water with their fins or flukes to stun and swallow their prey.
  • Humpbacks use a unique method of feeding called bubble netting, in which bubbles are exhaled as the whale swims in a spiral below a patch of water dense with food.The curtain of bubbles confines the prey to a small area in the middle of which one or more whales surface.

Literature Reviews

  • Carvalho, Loo, J., Collins, T., Barendse, J., Pomilla, C., Leslie, M. S., Ngouessono, S., Best, P. B., & Rosenbaum, H. C. (2014). Does temporal and spatial segregation explain the complex population structure of humpback whales on the coast of West Africa? Marine Biology, 161(4), 805–819.
  • Carvalho, I., Brito, C., dos Santos, M., & Rosenbaum, H. (2011). The waters of São Tomé: a calving ground for West African humpback whales? African Journal of Marine Science, 33(1), 91–97. doi:10.2989/1814232x.2011.572353
  • Brito, C., Carvalho, I., Reiner, F. (2003). Group types and surface activities of humpback whales breeding in S. Tomé and Príncipe, Gulf of Guinea.
  • Van Waerebeek, Djiba, A., Krakstad, J.-O., Bilal, A. S. Q., Bamy, I. L., Almeida, A., & Mbye, E. M. (2013). New Evidence for a South Atlantic Stock of Humpback Whales Wintering on the Northwest African Continental Shelf. African Zoology, 48(1), 177–186.
  • Dunlop. (2019). The effects of vessel noise on the communication network of humpback whales. Royal Society Open Science, 6(11), 190967–190967.
  • Overholtz, W.J.; Nicholas, J.R. (1979). “Apparent feeding by the fin whale, Balaenoptera physalus and humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae, on the American sand lance, Ammodytes americanus, in the Northwest Atlantic”. Fish. Bull. (77): 285–287.
  • Whitehead, H. (1987). “Updated status of the humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae, in Canada”. Canadian Field-Naturalist101 (2): 284–294.
  • Meyer, T.L.; Cooper, R.A.; Langton, R.W. (1979). “Relative abundance, behavior and food habits of the American sand lance (Ammodytes americanus) from the Gulf of Maine”. Fish. Bull77 (1): 243–253.
  • How humpback whales communicate through a hidden global network of song Dr Michelle Fournet and Dr Ellen Garland explain the incredible secret social world of whale vocalisation.

Areas of Collaboration

  • What is special about Sao Tome’s waters for it to be the ideal calving ground for humpback whales? The same question can be asked for Brazil/Argentina … Why do they breed there?
  • Promote ethical whale watching as a moral and progressive form of tourism rather than whaling.
  • Acoustic analysis of humpback whale song, and how it transforms and evolves throughout the season.
  • What are the anthropogenic impacts on this whale song?
  • Behavioural responses of humpback whales to underwater anthropogenic noise and the implications for the whale watching industry