Humpback Whale | Oceana Canada

Canadian Marine Life Encyclopedia

Humpback Whale

Megaptera novaeangliae

Also known as

The translation of their scientific name is large-winged From New England


Tropical, temperate and sub-Arctic waters worldwide


High latitude summer feeding grounds; low latitude winter breeding grounds

Feeding Habits



Suborder Mysticeti (baleen whales); Family Balaenopteridae (rorqual whales)


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Humpback whales are renowned for their charismatic, awe-inspiring behaviours above and below the ocean’s surface. Humpbacks frequently launch themselves into the air and land with a splash, known as breaching. They also slap the surface of the water with their long, jagged pectoral fins, the largest relative to body size of any whale. Their equally huge flukes are uniquely marked with mottled patterns like fingerprints, which scientists use to identify individuals using photo-identification catalogues. Humpbacks can also be tracked acoustically, as they sing the most complex songs of any marine mammal and can be heard from hundreds of kilometers away. These songs are often repeated for hours by males to attract females, and can change over time as whales learn new dialogues from each other. Their incredible social behaviours don’t stop there: humpback pods will feed together by encircling a school of small fish with bubbles, condensing them in a so-called ‘bubble net’ for easy capture with a single lunge.

Humpback whales have white undersides and a small dorsal fin centered on their black backs. Their throats have deep skin folds, known as rorqual grooves, which expand during feeding to engulf large volumes of water. The water is then pushed through their baleen plates to trap krill and small fish. Humpbacks are covered in round bumps called tubercles on their head, neck and fins. Their long pectoral fins give them their genus name “Megaptera,” meaning “large-winged” and their flukes are broad. They have an overall body size of 13-14 metres long and weigh up to 45 tonnes.