The humpback whale is part of the infraorder Cetacea and from the family of rorquals (baleen whales), Balaenoptera. Its overall colouration is black or dark grey dorsally and ventrally up to its throat, underside and flippers can be varying degrees of white. The body of the humpback whale is robust. Its flippers measure up to one third of total body length with a series of 4 – 6 bumps, including two distinct ones found on the leading edge, somewhat separating the margin into thirds. Its flukes; the two lobes of the whale tail, have a concave serrated trailing edge. The blowhole can appear bushy. Its dorsal fin is low and has a broad base, usually sitting in a hump. The head consists of a single media ridge. The anterior portion has many bumps and each bump has a single sensory hair. It possesses 270 to 400 strong, flexible baleen plates on each sides of the mouth, 14 to 35 ventral plates that extend back to the navel or further. Adults range between 11 to 16m in length while new-borns are 4.5 to 5 meters long. Adults can weigh up to 40 tons.
The humpback whale is an oceanic species. It migrates between mating and nursing grounds in tropical waters, usually near coastlines, islands or productive colder waters of temperate zones and high latitudes. Humpback whales seldom enter the Mediterranean Sea and are considered as visitors there. This species migrates seasonally from the tropics, which are its breeding areas, to its feeding grounds in polar and subpolar regions till ice edges in both hemispheres. In the Southern Hemisphere, humpbacks feed in the Antarctic mainly. Their diet consists mainly of krill, small fish, salmon, herring, sand lace and mackerel.
According to the IUCN Red List, this species is categorized as being of ‘Least Concern’. It was previously listed as ‘Vulnerable’ but there have been increases in their numbers in regions where assessments have been carried out. Although, there are still concerns as information is lacking for certain subpopulations. Threats to this species include oil and gas drilling, pollution, shipping lanes and fishing. They often get entangled in fishing gear which can be fatal or ship strikes. Large scale collect of humpback whales has ceased but in certain areas, hunting at low density still occurs.
Humpback whales are protected by the IWC against commercial whaling. They are also found in various sanctuaries and are listed in appendix 1 of CITES and CMS.
Males can ‘sing’ complex songs with up to nine musical themes for as long as thirty minutes, presumably to attract females.
The tail of a humpback whale is unique, similar to human fingerprints and can be used for identification of individuals.
Three species of barnacles are commonly found on its body. It also hosts a species of whale lice, Cyamus boopis.
Baleen plates are made of a protein similar to that of human fingernails.
Dives of the humpback whale may last up to 7 minutes.