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Text and photos by Nick Baker, unless credited to others.
Copyright ゥ Ecology Asia 2024







Humpback Whale

Fig 1

Fig 2

Fig 3

Fig 4


Infraorder : Cetacea
Family : Balaenopteridae
Species : Megaptera novaeangliae

Total Length : up to 16m
Weight : up to 36,000 kg

The magnificent Humpback Whale is a largely oceanic species, rarely seen in the shallow seas of Southeast Asia. Breeding populations occur, however, in the northern parts of the Indian Ocean and, in recent years, studies have confirmed a breeding and calving area in the Babuyan Islands, in the north of the Philippines. Whales from the latter area  migrate to the rich feeding grounds of the northern polar region during summer.

Humpbacks are baleen whales, reaching 16 metres in length and weighing up to 36 metric tonnes. Baleen, or 'whalebone', are filters arranged in a series of thin plates : huge mouthfuls of water are expelled through the baleen plates when the tongue is raised to divert the water to the sides of the mouth. In this manner, small invertebrates, such as krill or prawns, or larger vertebrates, such as anchovies or sardines are filtered. Larger fish are not eaten.

Humpbacks are also known as 'rorqual' whales which refers to the longitudinal grooves which extend from the mouth to the belly. This adaptation allows the throat to distend greatly as the whale feeds.

Southern hemisphere populations of the species, as shown in these images, have a greater amount of white on the belly and underneath the tail, while northern populations in Asia are more black. The long pectoral fins are the key identifying feature of the species.

The Humpback Whale is renowned for its acrobatic displays, frequently breaching (i.e. launching itself vertically from the sea) and often tail slapping. Brought to the brink of extinction in the 19th and early 20th century by the whaling industry, the species is now a favourite of whale-watching tours in more enlightened countries.

Figs 1 to 4 : Images of the Southern Humpback Whale off the eastern coast of Australia.

References : M2