While this gentle giant derives its common name from the distinctive hump on its back, the humpback's scientific name Megaptera (meaning 'big-winged' in Latin) is due to its huge pectoral fins. No matter what you call them, humpback whales are undeniably one of the most beautiful, inquisitive creatures to inhabit the ocean. Whether swimming with humpback whales or seeing a gravity-defying breach; being serenaded by their haunting melodies or witnessing a mother tenderly nurse her calf, humpback whales regularly top the bucket list for divers and land lubbers alike. Yet despite being roughly the size of a school bus - adult males can grow up to 60 feet in length and weigh a whopping 40 tonnes - they are surprisingly hard to find. Luckily, we know the best places to spot them.
A Rich Repertoire
Providing a never-ending symphony in the sea, males will sing complex, wide-ranging songs for hours on end. These songs can travel up to six miles and scientists hypothesise they are used to communicate with other males and attract a mate. Like any fad, whales will also refresh their signature song every few years. Humpback calves also communicate to their mothers in hushed tones reaching 330 feet, which are believed to be a strategy to prevent orcas and other predators from ear-wigging.
Humpbacks are one of 12 species of baleen whale, characterised by baleen plates - to aid filter feeding - and two blow holes. To eat, they take huge gulps of water which is filtered through the baleens and blown back out through the blowholes, leaving the fish behind for digestion. They also know the value of teamwork and will hunt in groups, blowing bubbles to herd fish into a tight ball ripe for the taking, eating as much as 3,000 pounds a day. This hunting technique is known as bubble netting.
Humpback whales have been considered somewhat of a conservation story, with over 60,000 believed to scour the ocean today following the international ban on commercial whale hunting in 1986. However, the re-introduction of whaling in Japan could sadly threaten their conservation. Other human threats include excessive noise pollution, water pollution, fishing (whether being caught in fishing gear or having their food supply depleted by overfishing) and collisions with boats.
Where To Find Them
While humpback whales are known to migrate some 5,000 miles each year (one of the longest migrations of all species), there are only a handful of places you can swim alongside them - luckily, they happen to be in some pretty spectacular destinations, from Ningaloo Reef in Australia to Socorro off Mexico; Silver Bank in the Dominican Republic to Moorea in French Polynesia. You can also watch humungous humpbacks breaching in Northern Mozambique.
Their average lifespan
Length of a fully-grown humpback whale
Weight of a fully-grown humpback whale