Humpback Whale

(Megaptera novaeangliae)


Family: Balaenopteridae

Species: Megaptera novaeangliae

Length: 12 to 13 meters on average. Can grow up to 16 meters for the females.

Weight: 25 to 30 metric tons.

Life expectancy: Up to 80 years.

Description: The humpback whale is a medium-sized baleen whale, which is perhaps best known for its long distance migrations between mid-to-high latitude feedings grounds and tropical breeding grounds. Humpbacks come to the productive waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence during the summer season when food sources, including zooplankton and fish are plentiful. Many individuals we have seen in this area over the last thirty years have been shown to return to this feeding ground year after year, along with their calves.


 Barbillon Breach

Breach of 'Barbillon' - Humpback whale H405 


Baleen plates hang down from either side of the upper jaw of the whale with 270-400 plates per side and allow the whale to separate its prey from seawater. One of the most striking features of the humpback is the long, white pectoral flippers are approximately one-third of the whale's body length. In the North Atlantic, humpbacks are black to dark grey on their dorsal sides and white to light grey on their ventral sides and on both sides of their pectoral flippers, in contrast to the Pacific humpbacks which have noticeably darker coloration on the dorsal side of their pectoral flippers. The flukes are dark on the dorsal side, but typically have lighter coloration on the ventral side and a serrated trailing edge. Unique variation in serration of the trailing edge and pigmentation on the ventral side of the flukes allows for identification of individuals. Females are typically slightly larger than males and give birth on an average of every two to three years.

Diet: As a member of the rorqual group, which includes blue, fin, sei, bryde's and minke whales, humpback whales are gulp feeders, meaning they engulf their prey in large volumes by expanding their ventral pouches, and then filter it out of the seawater with their baleen. Humpback whales are considered to be opportunistic foragers but are known to feed on schooling fish such as herring, sand lance, capelin, and mackerel, as well as euphausids.

Behaviour: In our study region we find humpbacks as solitary or in small groups. Occasionally in the St. Lawrencewe have observed cooperative feeding among several individuals. Humpbacks can be very active at the surface of the water and show spectacular behaviours such as breaching, lobtailing, flipper slapping, spyhopping.


Whale fluke sunset

'Lobtailing' of a humpback in the sunset