All About Humpback Whales

Dive deeper into our Cause of the Month for February 2023!

Humpbacks aren’t the biggest whales in the ocean (that would be the blue whale!), but they’re still one of the largest animals on Earth. They can reach lengths of more than 60 feet and weigh over 50 tons. 

On land, an animal this size would almost certainly be crushed under its own weight; it’s the buoyancy of saltwater that makes it possible for humpback whales to exist as a species. 

In addition to their distinctive knobbly head, humpback whales are known for being incredible acrobats. Famous for their spectacular breaching and tail fluking displays, these enormous whales are so powerful that they can launch their school-bus-sized bodies completely out of the water!

Humpback whales are also some of the most melodious animals in the ocean. Males of the species produce complex and hauntingly beautiful songs that can last more than 15 minutes, may be repeated for hours, and can be heard up to 20 miles away. Different populations sing different songs, but males in the same population will all sing the same song. While many theories exist about why humpbacks sing, no one knows for sure. 

Watch this video to listen in:

Humpback Whale Bracelet of the Month — Limited Edition

By purchasing this bracelet, you will pull one pound of trash from the world’s oceans, rivers, and coastlines. Only available February 2023.

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Humpback whales are found in all of the world’s major oceans from the Antarctic to the Arctic. They’re also one of the most migratory species of whale and will travel thousands of miles each year between their feeding and breeding grounds. 

Humpbacks only eat in their winter feeding grounds and live off fat reserves the rest of the year, even while migrating. Populations in the northern hemisphere feed in cold waters at high latitudes before heading south to breed in warmer tropical waters near the equator.

Because seasons are opposite in the south, humpbacks in the southern hemisphere feed closer to the south pole and migrate north toward the equator to breed. Researchers say this means that whales from different hemispheres never meet each other.

Despite their enormous size, humpback whales are not at all predatory. And, unless there’s an accidental collision, they’re absolutely harmless to humans.

These gentle giants are filter feeders who survive by feasting on microscopic plankton, tiny crustaceans like krill and shrimp, and small schooling fish. 

As you can imagine, an animal this big needs to eat a lot to stay healthy. One humpback whale can consume up to 3,000 pounds of food every day!

While humpbacks tend to travel alone or in small pods of two or three whales, they will team up to hunt. A few of the whales will swim in circles around a school of fish, blowing bubbles through their blowholes to form a “bubble net” that traps the fish and forces them closer together. Meanwhile, other whales go below the school and swim toward the surface, forcing the fish into a compact ball. Then they take turns lunging through it, gobbling up thousands of fish in a single, mighty gulp. 

Here’s what that looks like from above:

While humpback whales aren’t predatory, they do have predators. Researchers recently confirmed that orcas actively hunt humpback whale calves. But humpbacks are highly intelligent, extremely powerful, and will absolutely fight back. In fact, they’ll even go on the offensive, intimidating, harassing, and attacking orcas before they attack. 

Humpback whales also display altruistic behavior and will deliberately interfere with orcas that are on the attack. And they don’t just defend their own babies or close relatives either. Humpbacks have been documented intervening on behalf of other species as well—a gray whale calf with its mother, a seal hauled out on an ice floe, even an ocean sunfish. Whale biologist Nan Hauser has also shared her story about a humpback whale who protected her from a tiger shark—and their reunion a year later.

Can you believe we almost lost these magnificent creatures in the not-too-distant past? Humpback whales were almost hunted to extinction until a global moratorium was introduced in 1966. At the time of its introduction, researchers believe 90% of the global humpback whale population had been lost. Thanks to commercial whaling bans and other protective regulations, the species has recovered remarkably and populations continue to increase. But threats still remain. 

Humpback whales are highly vulnerable to ship strikes, a tragedy that’s almost always fatal. These events can happen throughout their range, but the risk is much higher in coastal areas with heavier maritime traffic.

Entanglement in abandoned, lost, and discarded fishing gear is still the leading cause of death for whales, including humpbacks. Entangled whales that are unable to free themselves are either weighed down and drowned or forced to drag thousands of pounds of extra weight behind them, which can prevent life-saving behaviors, lead to extreme energy depletion, and cause severe, sometimes fatal injuries and infections.

Humpback whales are often found close to shore, aren’t harmful to humans, and generally surface in an active state, which makes them highly popular attractions. Unregulated ecotourism and pressure from whale watching vessels, recreational boats, and other vessels may cause stress and behavioral changes that are detrimental to humpback whales.

Noise pollution from military activities and the oil and gas industry can interrupt normal behavioral patterns and drive whales away from crucial habitats. It can even cause direct harm by damaging their hearing and, in extreme cases, lead to internal bleeding and death. 

And while the impacts of climate change on whales isn’t well researched, climate change is a large and active threat to marine habitats in the high-latitude regions where humpbacks forage. As climate change disrupts the timing and distribution of sea ice coverage, there could be changes in prey behavior that lead to nutritional stress and other detrimental changes in behavior in whales. Researchers also believe that changing temperatures and currents caused by climate change could impact the timing of environmental cues that are critical for navigation and migration.

Ending our reliance on single-use and other unnecessary plastics, supporting the creation of marine protected areas and sustainable fisheries, improving global waste management infrastructure, and recovering plastic that’s already polluting the ocean are just a few ways we can help protect these magnificent creatures. 

Shop this month’s limited edition Humpback Whale Bracelets to pull a pound of trash from our oceans and help raise awareness about the impact that plastic pollution has on marine life. Pair it with our Ghost Net Awareness Bracelet to maximize your impact!

Humpback Whale Bracelet of the Month — Limited Edition

By purchasing this bracelet, you will pull one pound of trash from the world’s oceans, rivers, and coastlines. Only available February 2023.

Shop Now — Pull a Pound

Ghost Net Awareness Bracelet

For maximum impact, pair our Humpback Whale Bracelets with our Ghost Net Awareness Bracelet which is made with 4ocean Plastic and real pieces of ghost net recovered by our crews. 

Shop Now — Pull a Pound