Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)
The Humpback Whale is a mammal which belongs to the baleen whales suborder. It is a large whale (15m, 30 tonnes when adult), and is well known for its breaching and other displays. It has a worldwide distribution, and in Europe is regularly seen in the Bay of Biscay.
Humpbacks are rarely seen in the Strait of Georgia area although a few sightings have been reported (I personally sailed alongside a Humpback for 2 hours a few years ago). Humpbacks are common on the outer coast of the Washington Peninsula and Vancouver Island.
Humpbacks are the sole member of the Megaptera genus which is usually classified in its own subfamily (Megapterinae) within the Balaenoptiidae family which contains eight other baleen whales.
This rorqual is an energetic feeder, taking fish and krill. It will hunt fish by direct attack or by stunning them by hitting the water with its flippers or flukes. The most inventive technique is for a group of whales to confine fish within a circle of bubbles before launching an onslaught.
This is one of the easiest large whales to identify. It has a stocky body with an obvious hump and black upperparts. The head and lower jaw are covered with knobs (actually hair follicles). The tail flukes, which are lifted high in the dive sequence, have wavy rear edges.
The long black and white flippers have unique patterns, which enable individual whales to be recognised (in a similar way to the bill markings on Bewick’s Swans).
The stubby dorsal fin is visible soon after the blow when the whale surfaces, but has disappeared by the time the flukes emerge. It has a distinctive 3m bushy blow. This whale is famous for its long and complex song.
It is estimated that whaling took 250,000 humpbacks. Today, only about 20,000 remain.