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Humpback Whale
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Humpback Whale

Facts about the Humpack Whale

Family: Balaenopteridae
Length: 11 to 16 m
Weight: 25,000 to 30,000 kg
Sexual maturity: 5 years
Lifespan: 30 to 50 years

  • Head and jaw covered with fleshy knobs (tubercules)
  • Black topside and white belly
  • Long flippers
  • Small dorsal fin
  • Wide V-shaped tail

The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is a member of the baleen whale suborder, also known as the “great whales”. Identifiable by its massive size and long flippers, this species is found throughout the world, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Each year, humpback populations in the north-western Atlantic migrate between the Caribbean Sea and the Davis Strait, off Canada’s Baffin Island.

Strength and grace

Despite its massive body, the humpback is a graceful and strong swimmer. Its cruising speed of 8 km/h is rather slow, while its enormous flippers, at 4 to 5 m in length, are a third as long as the body. The humpback’s tail, or fluke, is about 4 m wide.

Spectacular performer

In a manoeuvre called “breaching”, the humpback makes spectacular leaps out of the water, falling back with a great splash. It also likes to engage in slapping the surface of the water with its flippers and fluke, swimming on its back, as well as maintaining its head above water in a vertical position. When diving, the whale gracefully arches its back and displays the underside of its V-shaped tail, which resembles the wings of a giant butterfly.

No two alike

As with human fingerprints, the ridges and patterns on the underside of the fluke are unique to each creature. This feature has greatly aided in studying the humpbacks, offering a reliable way to identify individual whales.

Wall of bubbles

The humpback feeds on crustaceans and small fish such as herring, sand lances and capelin. One of its feeding techniques consists of blowing a wall of bubbles up toward the surface, then rising rapidly and trapping the school of krill or small fish in its cavernous mouth.

Grooves and baleen

Broad and stretchable grooves extend along the humpback’s underside from the throat to the navel. These grooves allow the whale to hold, in a single mouthful, thousands of litres of water teeming with krill and small fish. The baleen plates lining the jaw function as a strainer, allowing the humpback to expel the water while retaining the food.


When spring arrives, the humpbacks begin their migratory journey along the east coast of North America. They pass through the waters of Canada’s Maritime provinces, enter the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and continue on to the Davis Strait, where they spend summers feeding. When October arrives, they begin the voyage back south, to spend winter and mate in the warm waters of the Caribbean.

Enchanting song

The humpback’s musical song is among the most varied and complex in the animal world. Each group has a distinct sound signature. During mating season, males sing enchanting serenades that they sometimes repeat for hours. This majestic singer’s repertoire is without doubt the best-known among whale vocalizations.

Growth spurt

Females generally give birth every two years, and on rare occasion, two years in a row. The calf is born after a gestation period of 11 months. At birth, it measures nearly 5 m in length and weighs about a ton. The mother prompts the calf to rise to the surface to take its first breath. During the nursing period, which lasts six months, the calf grows very quickly while its mother loses a lot of weight.

Protected species

For centuries, whalers hunted the humpback by taking advantage of its natural curiosity and slow movement along coastlines. Following a brush with extinction in the early 20th century, this majestic creature is now protected. Worldwide population is estimated at 35,000 individuals, including about 12,000 in the North Atlantic.

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Elles sont magnifiques

Par Julie, 2010-01-20, 02h24

J'ai toujours trouvé ces baleines magnifiques. Les voir dans leur milieu naturel doit être une expérience incroyable. Leur chant est superbe et si mélodieux...

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