Found in oceans and seas around the world.
Found in oceans and seas around the world, humpback whales typically migrate up to 25,000 kilometres (16,000 mi) each year. Humpbacks feed only in summer, in polar waters, and migrate to tropical or subtropical waters to breed and give birth in the winter. During the winter, humpbacks fast and live off their fat reserves. Their diet consists mostly of krill and small fish. Humpbacks have a diverse repertoire of feeding methods, including the bubble net feeding technique.
Like other large whales, the humpback was and is a target for the whaling industry. Once hunted to the brink of extinction, its population fell by an estimated 90% before a moratorium was introduced in 1966. While stocks have since partially recovered, entanglement in fishing gear, collisions with ships, and noise pollution continue to impact the 80,000 humpbacks worldwide.
One of the larger rorqual species, adults range in length from 12–16 metres (39–52 ft) and weigh approximately 36,000 kilograms (79,000 lb).
The humpback has a distinctive body shape, with unusually long pectoral fins and a knobbly head.
Newborn calves are roughly the length of their mother's head. At birth, calves measure 6 metres (20 ft) at 2 short tons (1.8 t) The mother, by comparison, is about 15 metres (49 ft)
Humpbacks feed primarily in summer and live off fat reserves during winter. They feed only rarely and opportunistically in their wintering waters.
The humpback is an energetic hunter, taking krill and small schooling fish such as Atlantic herring, Atlantic salmon, capelin, and American sand lance, as well as Atlantic mackerel, pollock, and haddock in the North Atlantic. Humpbacks hunt by direct attack or by stunning prey by hitting the water with pectoral fins or flukes.
Females typically breed every two or three years. The gestation period is 11.5 months, yet some individuals have been known to breed in two consecutive years. The peak months for birth are January, February, July, and August, with usually a one- to two–year period between humpback births.
These whales are not excessively social in most cases. Groups may stay together a little longer in summer to forage and feed cooperatively. Longer-term relationships between pairs or small groups, lasting months or even years, have rarely been observed. Some females possibly retain bonds created via cooperative feeding for a lifetime.
The humpback social structure is loose-knit. Typically, individuals live alone or in small, transient groups that disband after a few hours.
The humpback's range overlaps considerably with other whale and dolphin species—for instance, the minke whale. However, humpbacks rarely interact socially with them, though one individual was observed playing with a bottlenose dolphin in Hawaiian waters.
Males produce a complex song lasting 10 to 20 minutes, which they repeat for hours at a time.
Its purpose is not clear, though it may have a role in mating.