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Humpback Whale

Megaptera novaeangliae

Listing Status

  • Federal Status: Endangered
  • FL Status: Federally-designated Endangered
  • FNAI Ranks: Not ranked
  • IUCN Status: LC (Least Concern)


humpback whale

Humpback whales are large marine mammals know for their extremely long pectoral fins, which can reach a length of 15 feet (4.6 meters) (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, n.d.).  Male humpback whales reach a body length of 40-48 feet (12.2-14.6 meters), while females grow up to 45-50 feet (13.7-15.2 meters) (American Cetacean Society, n.d.).  Both sexes have a largely dark grey body; however, their fins and belly have a variation of white on them.  The color variation is so distinct on their tail (fluke) that they can be identified by this variation in a similar way that humans are identified by fingerprints (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, n.d).


Humpback whales are classified as baleen whales. Baleen whales have baleen plates that filter food out of the water.  Their diet primarily consists of krill and small fish (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, n.d).

The humpback whale is a polygamous breeder (breeds with more than one mate).  Breeding mostly occurs once every two years, but can happen twice in three years.  Males are very competitive and aggressive during courtship, as they will sing, thrash their tails and bodies, blow bubbles, and make blunt contact with other males.  This contact can be severe enough to cause injury and death to some individuals.  Male singing can occur for hours and be heard up to 20 miles (32.2 kilometers) away.  The gestation period for a humpback whale is 11 months and newborns range in size from 13 to 16 feet in length.  Weaning takes place between six to ten months after birth.  Males do not help with raising their offspring (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, n.d). 


humpback whale map

The humpback whale occurs in all major oceans on Earth; however, it is less common in the Arctic Ocean (NMFS 1991).


Historically, the humpback whale population faced a steep decline due to overharvesting by different countries.  The species was given international protection in 1966, as the International Whaling Commission made whaling illegal (American Cetacean Society, n.d.).  Illegal whaling is still a threat to whales today.  The main threat towards the humpback whale presently is the incidental capture in fishing nets and crab pots.  Entangled whales can suffer serious injury or even drown when captured in nets.  Hits by both boats and ships threaten the humpback whale, as they usually swim near the surface of the water (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, n.d.).

Conservation and Management

The humpback whale is protected as an Endangered species by the Federal Endangered Species Act and as a Federally-designated Endangered species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule.  It is also protected as a Depleted species by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. 

Federal Recovery Plan


American Cetacean Society. (n.d.). Humpback Whale. Retrieved May 9, 2011, from American Cetacean Society Fact Sheet:

National Marine Fisheries Service. 1991. Recovery Plan for the Humpback Whale (Megapten novaeangliae). Prepared by the Humpback Whale Recovery Team for the National Marine Fisheries Service, SilverSpring, Maryland. 105 pp.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. (n.d.). Humpback whale. Retrieved May 09, 2011, from NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service: