Photo: Humpback whales in the singing position

The plaintive song of the humpback whale can travel for great distances underwater.

Photograph courtesy Dr. Louis M. Herman/NOAA

Map

Map: Humpback whale range

Humpback Whale Range

Audio

Fast Facts

Type:
Mammal
Diet:
Omnivore
Size:
48 to 62.5 ft (14.6 to 19 m)
Weight:
40 tons (36 metric tons)
Group name:
Pod
Protection status:
Endangered
Size relative to a bus:
Illustration: Humpback whale compared with bus

Humpback whales are known for their magical songs, which travel for great distances through the world's oceans. These sequences of moans, howls, cries, and other noises are quite complex and often continue for hours on end. Scientists are studying these sounds to decipher their meaning. It is most likely that humpbacks sing to communicate with others and to attract potential mates.

These whales are found near coastlines, feeding on tiny shrimp-like krill, plankton, and small fish. Humpbacks migrate annually from summer feeding grounds near the poles to warmer winter breeding waters closer to the Equator. Mothers and their young swim close together, often touching one another with their flippers with what appear to be gestures of affection. Females nurse their calves for almost a year, though it takes far longer than that for a humpback whale to reach full adulthood. Calves do not stop growing until they are ten years old.

Humpbacks are powerful swimmers, and they use their massive tail fin, called a fluke, to propel themselves through the water and sometimes completely out of it. These whales, like others, regularly leap from the water, landing with a tremendous splash. Scientists aren't sure if this breaching behavior serves some purpose, such as cleaning pests from the whale's skin, or whether whales simply do it for fun.

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