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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, North American Mammals

  Cetacea · Balaenopteridae · Megaptera novaeangliae

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Megaptera novaeangliae

Humpback Whale

Order: Cetacea
Family: Balaenopteridae

Image of Megaptera novaeangliae
Megaptera novaeangliae - inset shows pattern on fluke
Click to enlarge this image. (48 kb)

Conservation Status: Least Concern.

Humpback whales are among the best-studied cetaceans, yet they are still among the most mysterious. Among the mysteries are the reasons for their songs and the complex social behaviors that accompany them. These songs are intricate, with up to nine musical themes. Males may sing for days, changing themes over time, yet all the males from one population will sing the same song. Humpbacks are popular subjects for ecotourism and the whale-watching business. They are easily identified by enormous, wing-like flippers, which are far longer than in any other whale. They are known for spectacular displays at the surface. They breach, leaping headfirst out of the water; slap the surface with a long flipper; or slam the tail flukes repeatedly. Humpbacks may be the only whales to trap or herd prey into a bunch to make feeding more efficient. They concentrate a school of fish into a stack by blowing columns of bubbles to form a circle around it, and then lunge into the mass to feed. Although endangered, humpback whale populations are making a good comeback.

Sexual Dimorphism:

Females are usually about one meter longer than males.


Range: 14-17 m


Range: 25,000-45,000 kg


Borowski, G.H. 1781.  Gemeinnuzige Naturgeschichte des Thierreichs.  Gottlieb August Lange, Berlin, 1:21.


Mammal Species of the World (opens in a new window).

Mammalian Species, American Society of Mammalogists' species account * (opens in a new window).
* PDF reader available here (opens in a new window).

Distribution of Megaptera novaeangliae

Image of Megaptera novaeangliae
Click to enlarge this image. (28kb)

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