MarLIN

information on the biology of species and the ecology of habitats found around the coasts and seas of the British Isles

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.

Summary

Description

The humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae is a baleen whale and can be recognised as such by the plates of baleen (rather than teeth) suspended from the upper jaw and the two blowholes on the upper body. The humback whale is relatively robust rorqual and can reach up to 16 m in length. It is a member of the rorqual family with the characteristic ventral pleats of skin under the eye and the relatively flat and broad jaw. At close range, it is one of the easiest whales to identify. It has extremely long distinctive flippers with a white colouration and knobs on the leading edge. The dorsal fin is low and usually sits on a hump. The head has a single ridge and is covered with numerous bumps. It is a grey-black colour dorsally and laterally, and is white underneath.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Occasionally seen off the coasts of northern Scotland.

Global distribution

-

Habitat

The humpback whale is an coastal whale. It can be found at the surface or diving down to several hundred metres.

Depth range

-

Identifying features

  • Up to 16 m in length.
  • Uniform grey-black dorsal and lateral colouration; white underneath.
  • Large, white flippers up to one-third of body length with knobs on leading edge.
  • Broad tail flukes white white patches underneath.
  • Small dorsal fin two-thirds down the body, usually atop a hump.
  • Top of head is covered with knobs.
  • Less than 35 ventral pleats ending past the navel.

Additional information

Humpback whales are usually found in groups of two or three, although in feeding areas larger aggregations may develop. It is quite acrobatic and may perform full breaches, and when diving, it will often show the tail flukes. Dives may last up to 7 minutes long (Kinze, 2002).

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Further information sources

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Bibliography

  1. Bruyns, W.F.J.M., 1971. Field guide of whales and dolphins. Amsterdam: Publishing Company Tors.

  2. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E., 1997. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication, no. 276.]

  3. Jefferson, T.A., Leatherwood, S. & Webber, M.A., 1994. FAO species identification guide. Marine mammals of the world. Rome: United Nations Environment Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

  4. Kinze, C. C., 2002. Photographic Guide to the Marine Mammals of the North Atlantic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  5. National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Atlas website. Available from: http://www.nbnatlas.org.  Accessed 01 April 2017

  6. OBIS,  2017. Global map of species distribution using gridded data. Available from: Ocean Biogeographic Information System. www.iobis.org. Accessed: 2017-11-22

  7. Reid. J.B., Evans. P.G.H., Northridge. S.P. (ed.), 2003. Atlas of Cetacean Distribution in North-west European Waters. Peterborough: Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

Citation

This review can be cited as:

Barnes, M.K.S. 2008. Megaptera novaeangliae Humpback whale. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. Available from: http://www.marlin.ac.uk/species/detail/106

Last Updated: 02/06/2008