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.

There are approximately 4,000 humpback whales in the Northwest Atlantic population and more than 18,000 in North Pacific population. The global population is increasing at an estimated rate of 4.9-6.8 per cent annually. However, these numbers are still small compared to their estimated abundance before whaling.  Below are the conservation statuses of each population based on assessments by The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and listing under the Species at Risk Act (SARA): 

  • North Pacific population. COSEWIC listing: Special Concern – 2011, SARA listing: Schedule 1, Threatened 
  • Western North Atlantic population. COSEWIC listing: Not at Risk – 2003, SARA listing: Schedule 3, Special Concern