T.E.R:R.A.I.N - Taranaki Educational Resource: Research, Analysis and Information Network


Whale (Humpback) Megaptera novaeangliae

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Infraorder: Cetacea
Family: Balaenopteridae
Genus: Megaptera
Species: M. novaeangliae
Binomial name: Megaptera novaeangliae
Common name: Humpback whale

The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is a species of baleen whale with a worldwide range. They are one of the larger rorqual species, adults range in length from 13–16 m and weigh around 25–30 metric tons. The humpback has a distinctive body shape, they have a small dorsal fin with a distinctive hump at the front. There knobbly protuberances (tubercles) on the head, the tip of the lower jaw and leading edge of the extremely long 5 m flippers. 
Their tail flukes are 5.5 m wide and have a unique black and white colour pattern, which allow individuals to be identified. They have a variable colour but are generally black with white on the underside and on the flippers.

Humpback whales have baleen rather than teeth. The baleen is 270 to 400 fringed overlapping plates hanging down from each side of the upper jaw. The plates are made of keratin, which is a fibrous protein, the same thing human hair and nails are made of. The baleen plates are black and measure 46 cm to 91 cm long. The baleen system works by a whale opening its mouth underwater and taking in water. The whale then pushes the water out, and animals such as krill are filtered by the baleen and remain as a food source for the whale.
Humpback whales are known for breaching and other distinctive surface behaviours, making it popular with whale watchers. 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. 

Humpback whales typically migrate up to 25,000 km each year feeding in polar waters and migrate to tropical or subtropical waters to breed and give birth, fasting and living 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 technique.

Like other large whales, the humpback was a target for the whaling industry. Once hunted to the brink of extinction, its population fell by an estimated 90% before a 1966 moratorium. While stocks have partially recovered to some 80,000 animals worldwide, entanglement in fishing gear, collisions with ships and noise pollution continue to impact the species. 



A breaching humpback.


The tail flukes.


This graphic shows the size difference between a humpback and a human.

Thanks to Wikipedia for text and information: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/