Centro de Estudios para la

Conservación de Ecosistemas Marinos

Humpback whale

Common names: 

English: Humpback whale

Spanish: Ballena jorobada, ballena yubarta

German: Buckelwal


Scientific name: 

Megaptera novaeangliae



Length: 16 - 18 m 

Weight: 40 ton 


Habitat and distribution:

Humpback whales undertake long migrations (up to 18,000 km annually) between tropical coastal waters where they mate and calve during the winter months to feeding grounds in colder waters (mid and high latitudes), mainly in continental shelf waters, during the summer. In the Southern Hemisphere, humpback whales appear to feed predominantly on krill (Euphausia superba) around Antarctica. Some humpback whales don't seem to migrate all the way to Antarctic waters, instead feeding in prey-rich coastal upwelling areas in southern Chile, such as off Isla Chiloé or the Fueguian Archipelago. 



Although commercial whaling seriously depleted all humpback populations, most (but not all) populations have increased since the end of whaling. Today, small numbers only are taken by 'subsistence' whaling operations in the Caribbean and off Greenland, but illegal and urepoted catches might occur elsewhere. Humpback whales are one of the best known whale species not least because of their popularity with the global whale watching industry. Intense and poorly regulated whale watching activities have the potential to cause disturbance to whales during important times such as breeding or feeding. Migration paths along the coast brings humpback whales into frequent contact with human activities. There are regular entanglements in static fishing gear which can cause injury and also death. Like all large whales humpback whales are subject to ship strikes which are often fatal. Shipping and other noisy human activities (e.g. seismic exploration, sonar) in the ocean can interfere with their sophisticated communication.


Suggested references:

- Acevedo, J., C. Mora and A. Aguayo-Lobo (2014). Sex-related site fidelity of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) to the Fueguian Archipelago feeding area, Chile. Marine Mammal Science 30(2): 433-444.

- Hucke-Gaete, R., D. Haro, J. P. Torres-Florez, Y. Montecinos, F. Viddi, L. Bedriñana-Romano, M. F. Nery and J. Ruiz (2013). A historical feeding ground for humpback whales in the eastern South Pacific revisited: the case of northern Patagonia, Chile. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 23(6): 858-867.

- Reilly, S.B., Bannister, J.L., Best, P.B., Brown, M., Brownell Jr., R.L., Butterworth, D.S., Clapham, P.J., Cooke, J., Donovan, G.P., Urbán, J. & Zerbini, A.N. (2008). Megaptera novaeangliae. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2.