Humpback Whale

Latin:           Megaptera novaeangliae
English:       Humpback whale
Norwegian: Knølvhal

The humpback whale seems happy to perform: it lifts its head out of the water, waves its long massive flippers, splashes its tail, rolls over in the water, and more than anything else, leaps out of the water. 

There are more spectacular pictures of humpbacks than of any other whale. The humpback whale is classed as one of the rorquals, but some aspects of its anatomy differ. Compared to the slim, sleek, classic rorquals, the humpback is bulkier, and its skin is knobby and covered in barnacles. The dorsal fin is reduced to a fleshy hump, or hook that sits on a sort of platform on the back. The tail is not smooth but ragged on the trailing edge. 

photo: Jenny van Twillert

More than anything else, the flippers seem greatly out of proportions. At up to 5 meters long, they are the longest appendages of any animal. 

photo: Jenny van Twillert

Their feeding behavior is more versatile than other baleen whales and include bubble netting.

Humpbacks are seen single, in pairs or in groups of up to 15 animals. Mothers and calves stay close for the first year, but on the mating grounds they are often joined by male "escorts". 

Humpbacks usually lift their flukes before a deep dive. The flukes have a distinct pattern on the underside, which varies from almost white with black markings, to almost black with white markings.

Several thousands humpback individuals have been photo-identified by their fluke markings and have become part of catalogs of whales in the North Atlantic.

Listen to the humpback whale

© North Atlantic Society 2012