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Animals

Humpback Whale

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The plaintive song of the humpback whale can travel for great distances underwater.



About the Humpback Whale

Humpback whales are known for their magical songs, which travel for great distances through the world's oceans.

Whale Songs

These sequences of moans, howls, cries, and other noises are quite complex and often continue for hours on end. Scientists are studying these sounds to decipher their meaning. It is most likely that humpbacks sing to communicate with others and to attract potential mates.

Behavior and Parenting

These whales are found near coastlines, feeding on tiny shrimp-like krill, plankton, and small fish. Humpbacks migrate annually from summer feeding grounds near the poles to warmer winter breeding waters closer to the Equator. Mothers and their young swim close together, often touching one another with their flippers with what appear to be gestures of affection. Females nurse their calves for almost a year, though it takes far longer than that for a humpback whale to reach full adulthood. Calves do not stop growing until they are ten years old.

Swimming and Breaching

Humpbacks are powerful swimmers, and they use their massive tail fin, called a fluke, to propel themselves through the water and sometimes completely out of it. These whales, like others, regularly leap from the water, landing with a tremendous splash. Scientists aren't sure if this breaching behavior serves some purpose, such as cleaning pests from the whale's skin, or whether whales simply do it for fun.


WATCH: Up Close—Humpback Surfacing in Marina

A humpback whale surfaced, mouth open, right beside a fisherman standing on a marina pier near Ketchikan, Alaska.