The Humpback whale is one of the most commonly seen by Whale Watchers, in both hemispheres of the planet.
The following distinctive features makes it generally very easy to positevely identify a Humpback whale.
- Very long, knobby flippers (pectoral fins), which can be as long as 1/3 the total body length.
- Numerous knobs around the snout
- Individual in the Southern Hemisphere, such as in Tonga, are characterised by a white belly.
- Blue to almost black back
The Humpback whale is a baleen whale and belongs to the group of whales generally called Rorquals
(from a Norwegian word meaning "furrow whales"), more precisely defined as the species belonging to
the family Balaenopteridae, which have pleats (e.g. grooves) on their throats.
The accordion-like pleats are highly extensible, and let the whale engulf a very large amount of water,
which is then filtered by the comb-like baleen plates.
While water is expelled through the baleen, food is retained in the whale's mouth and finally swallowed.
The Humpback whale is by far the most acrobatic of large cetaceans.
They frequently breach, lob-tail, flipper-slap and spyhop. All these behaviours really make the joy of
Whale Watchers, along with the Humpback whale's tendency to be often inquisitive and approach
The name "Humpback" is self-explanatory: this whale is characterised by a strongly arched back,
mostly noticeable when the animal is just about to leave the surface.
The dorsal fin can be low and stubby, or quite high and with a more defined "fin-like" shape,
depending on the individual.
The Humpback whale is widespread in the Earth's oceans, but its seasonal distribution is precisely defined.
Indeed, the Humpbacks prefer to spend their winters in warm, calm waters, where they mate, breed and suckle
their calves. This is exactly what happens in Tonga!
They do not feed during the winter, but only in the summer when they reach their feeding grounds by
following distinct migration patterns to the high latitudes of the Arctic (in the Northern Hemisphere)
and Antarctica (in the Southern Hemisphere).
It is in fact in the cold and rich waters of the extreme North and South of the planet that Humpback
whales regain weight by eating amazingly large amounts of krill (a small crustacean) and schooling fish.
Female Humpbacks calve every 2 or 3 years. Births occur in winter in places like Tonga, far away from the
high latitude harsh conditions which would be too strenuous for the babies.
Mum and calf pairs are often accompanied by "Escort" males, who patiently (not really, actually!) wait for
the female to become again receptive. You will meet plenty of them in Vava'u!
Mating time is the time of the year when the wonderful Humpback whale's songs can be heard.
Only the males sing, and they can perform for hours, sometimes entire days, while staying head down
Their songs are so powerful that can be heard from miles and miles. The Humpbacks seem to use rhymes to
make it easier to remember their complex tunes, which are shared by all males in a certain area.
Songs then change with time, and all whales start to sing the new tune.
The Humpback whale is a slow swimmer, and partly because of that it was heavily hunted during whaling time.
While some populations seem to have recovered quite well, its conservation status is still defined as