Megaptera novaeangliae - (Borowski, 1781)
Humpback Whale
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Megaptera novaeangliae (Borowski, 1781) (TSN 180530)
French Common Names: rorqual à bosse
Spanish Common Names: Rorcual Jorobado
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.105599
Element Code: AMAGH02010
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Mammals - Whales and Dolphins
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Mammalia Cetacea Balaenopteridae Megaptera
Genus Size: A - Monotypic genus
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder (editors). 1993. Mammal species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference. Second edition. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC. xviii + 1206 pp. Available online at: http://www.nmnh.si.edu/msw/.
Concept Reference Code: B93WIL01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Megaptera novaeangliae
Taxonomic Comments: Clapham et al. (1993) reported that available evidence supports the hypothesis that the western North Atlantic population can be considered a single panmictic population; individuals from different high-latitude feeding areas intermix in the breeding range. However, Allen et al. (1994) found that "regional differences in fluke pigmentation suggest that the western North Atlantic population includes a number of relatively isolated subunits, as suggested previously by photoidentification and DNA studies."

Within Mexico, whales wintering off the Revillagigedo Islands are weakly but significantly differentiated genetically from those along the American Pacific coast (Medrano-Gonzalez et al. 1995).

MtDNA data indicate that several distinctive stocks exist in the Southern Hemisphere, with a low level of gene flow among them; also, shared identical nucleotypes occur in the Northern and Southern hemispheres (Baker et al. 1998).
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G4
Global Status Last Reviewed: 04Apr2016
Global Status Last Changed: 26Nov2008
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by inspection
Rounded Global Status: G4 - Apparently Secure
Reasons: Large worldwide range extends throughout all oceans; depleted by past overharvesting; population size now exceeds 60,000 and has increased over the past several decades; vulnerable to marine pollution, disturbance by boat traffic, and entanglement in fishing gear, but these are not major threats, and the species is now apparently secure.
Nation: United States
National Status: N3 (26Nov2008)
Nation: Canada
National Status: N5N,N5M (01Jan2018)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Alaska (S3), California (SNR), Delaware (SNA), Florida (SNR), Georgia (SNRN), Hawaii (SNR), Maine (SNR), Maryland (SNA), Massachusetts (S2), New Jersey (S1), New York (SNA), North Carolina (SNA), Oregon (SNA), Rhode Island (SNRN), South Carolina (S1), Virginia (S1N), Washington (SNA)
Canada British Columbia (S3), Labrador (SNR), New Brunswick (S3), Newfoundland Island (SNR), Nova Scotia (S3), Prince Edward Island (SNR), Quebec (S4)

Other Statuses

Implied Status under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (USESA): PS:LE,LT
Comments on USESA: This species was listed endangered in 1970. NMFS (2016) issued a final rule to revise the species-wide listing of the humpback whale by replacing it with four endangered species listings (Cape Verde Islands/Northwest Africa, Western North Pacific, Central America, and Arabian Sea DPSs) and one threatened species listing (Mexico DPS). USFWS (2016) have removed the current species-level listing of the humpback whale and in its place listed the Cape Verde Islands/Northwest Africa, Western North Pacific, Central America, and Arabian Sea distinct population segments (DPSs) as endangered and the Mexico DPS as threatened. Humpback whales in the remaining DPSs will no longer be protected under the Act.

As of December 2016, The FWS is currently monitoring the following populations of the Humpback whale:

Population location: Central America DPS
Listing status:  Endangered

Population location: Western North Pacific
Listing status:  Endangered

Population location: Cape Verde Island/Northwest Africa
Listing status:  Endangered

Population location: Arabian Sea DPS
Listing status:  Endangered

Population location: Mexico DPS
Listing status:  Threatened

Population location: Brazil DPS
Listing status:  Delisted due to Recovery

Population location: Gabon/Southwest Africa DPS
Listing status:  Delisted due to Recovery

Population location: Oceania DPS
Listing status:  Delisted due to Recovery

Population location: Southeastern Pacific DPS
Listing status:  Delisted due to Recovery

Population location: West Indies DPS
Listing status:  Delisted due to Recovery

Population location: East Australia DPS
Listing status:  Delisted due to Recovery

Population location: Southeast Africa/Madagascar DPS
Listing status:  Delisted due to Recovery

Population location: West Australia DPS
Listing status:  Delisted due to Recovery

Population location: Hawaii DPS
Listing status:  Delisted due to Recovery

Implied Status under the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC):PS:SC
Comments on COSEWIC: North Pacific population (pop. 1) designated Special Concern. Western North Atlantic population (pop. 2) designated Not at Risk. See individual accounts for further information.
IUCN Red List Category: LC - Least concern
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Protection Status (CITES): Appendix I

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: >2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: Range encompasses the world's oceans from the subtropics to high latitudes. All subpopulations (except the one in the Arabian Sea) migrate between mating and calving grounds in tropical/subtropical waters, usually near continental coastlines or island groups, and productive colder waters in temperate and high latitudes (Reilly et al. 2008).

Area of Occupancy: >12,500 4-km2 grid cells
Area of Occupancy Comments:  

Population Size: 10,000 - 100,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: Population size based on counts in breeding areas is greater than 66,600. North Pacific: ~18,300 (2004-2006; Calambokidis et al. 2008); North Atlantic: 10,290-13,990 (early 1990s; Stevick et al. 2003); Southern Hemisphere: at least 36,763 (Reilly et al. 2008).

Overall Threat Impact: Low
Overall Threat Impact Comments: Historically, populations were greatly reduced by commercial whaling. Humpback whales have been protected from commercial whaling worldwide since 1966, and there have been few catches since 1968 (Reilly et al. 2008). The species remains vulnerable to marine pollution, disturbance by boat traffic, mortality from boat collisions, and entanglement in fishing gear (e.g., Volgenau et al. 1995 Todd et al. 1996, Mazzuca et al. 1998), but these factors currently are not significantly interfering with population recovery.

Short-term Trend: Increase of >10%
Short-term Trend Comments: Populations have increased in the North Pacific, North Atlantic, and Southern Hemisphere over the past several decades (Stevick et al. 2003, Calambokidis et al. 2008, Reilly et al. 2008).

Long-term Trend:  
Long-term Trend Comments: Population size was reduced by a very large proportion (perhaps 90 percent) by commercial whaling but has increased substantially in recent decades; some regions may now have populations that are similar to pre-whaling levels.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Protection Needs: In waters off northeastern North America, more effective entanglement reporting and assisting systems are needed, and increased efforts are needed to decrease entanglements in fishing gear (Volgenau et al. 1995). Protection could be enhanced by establishement of additional marine sanctuaries in areas where the species congregates.

Distribution
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Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Range encompasses the world's oceans from the subtropics to high latitudes. All subpopulations (except the one in the Arabian Sea) migrate between mating and calving grounds in tropical/subtropical waters, usually near continental coastlines or island groups, and productive colder waters in temperate and high latitudes (Reilly et al. 2008).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AK, CA, DE, FL, GA, HI, MA, MD, ME, NC, NJ, NY, OR, RI, SC, VA, WA
Canada BC, LB, NB, NF, NS, PE, QC

Range Map
No map available.


U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
NY Nassau (36059), Queens (36081), Suffolk (36103)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
02 Sandy Hook-Staten Island (02030104)+, Southern Long Island (02030202)+, Cohansey-Maurice (02040206)+, Mullica-Toms (02040301)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: A large baleen whale.
General Description: This is a mostly black or gray baleen whale with very long (up to one-third of body length) flippers that often are white or partly white. In front of the paired nostrils the head is flat and covered with knobs. The rear edge of the flippers and fluke is scalloped. The dorsal fin is variable but often has a hump or step along the front edge. The throat has about 14-35 longitudinal grooves. The baleen generally is all black, up to 70 cm long. Maximum length is around 52 feet (16 meters). The blow is bushy and V-shaped. Humpbacks often raise the tail above the water when starting a deep dive. Source: Leatherwood and Reeves (1983).
Diagnostic Characteristics: Differs from all other large whales in the very large and often white or partially white flippers, the knobs on the head, and the irregular rather than smooth rear margin of the tail fluke (Leatherwood and Reeves 1983). Dorsal fin varies such that it may resemble those of the blue whale, fin whale, or sei whale.
Reproduction Comments: In the western North Atlantic, young are born from December or January through March. Gestation lasts 11-12 months. Most adult females bear a calf every 2-3 years (sometimes 1 or 4 years). Young are weaned in 5-12 months. Twelve females that were monitored since first being observed as calves produced their first calves at ages of 5-7 years (Can. J. Zool. 70:1470). In Alaska, the age of first calving is 8-16 years (average 11.8 years).
Ecology Comments: Humpback whales travel singly, in pairs or trios, or in groups of usually about 10-15. They may form stable feeding groups that stay together throughout the summer and that reform in subsequent summers.

This species sometimes has succumbed to local die-offs off the northeastern United States, due apparently to ingestion of prey containing red tide toxins (IUCN 1991).

Habitat Type: Marine
Non-Migrant: N
Locally Migrant: N
Long Distance Migrant: Y
Mobility and Migration Comments: In the western North Atlantic, most humpbacks depart breeding areas in late winter-early spring. They arrive in northern feeding areas in 1-2 months; in the southern Gulf of Maine, they commonly return to the same area in successive years (Clapham et al., 1993, Can. J. Zool. 71:440-443). Southward migration occurs in fall; individuals arrive in breeding areas in 1-2 months. This species occurs off Hawaii mainly January-March.

Resightings of photoidentified individuals indicate that individuals may winter in widely separated areas in different years; at least some individuals may occupy widely separated areas in a single spring-summer season (e.g., Hawaii and Mexico, Hawaii and Japan, Japan and British Columbia) (see Darling and Mori 1993; Marine Mammal Sci. 12:281-287, [1996]; Salden et al. 1999). The fastest documented migration from southeastern Alaska to Hawaii took 39 days (Marine Mammal Sci. 12:457-464).

Marine Habitat(s): Near shore, Pelagic
Estuarine Habitat(s): Bay/sound
Habitat Comments: Habitat includes the open ocean and coastal waters, sometimes including inshore areas such as bays. Summer distribution is in temperate and subpolar waters. In winter, most humpbacks are in tropical/subtropical waters near islands or coasts.

In the western North Atlantic, humpbacks give birth mainly over shallow wide banks near islands. In Hawaii, they concentrate over shallower waters near islands (Tomich 1986); groups including a calf tend to occur in shallower waters than do groups lacking a calf (Smultea 1994).

Adult Food Habits: Invertivore, Piscivore, Planktivore
Immature Food Habits: Invertivore, Piscivore, Planktivore
Food Comments: This species is primarily dependent upon schooling fishes and krill (essentially krill only in the Southern Hemisphere). Feeding occurs singly or in groups, at the surface or while submerged, mainly in high latitudes, though stranded individuals in Virginia and Georgia had eaten sciaenid fishes (Laerm et al. 19970.

Humpback whales employ a wide variety of foraging methods, including cooperative feeding on prey enclosed in "nets" of exhaled air bubbles.

Adult Phenology: Circadian
Immature Phenology: Circadian
Phenology Comments: Active day/night.
Length: 1300 centimeters
Weight: 30000000 grams
Economic Attributes
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Economic Comments: Humpback whales formerly were subjected to heavy commercial harvest, primarily for oil; a very small harvest for local use still occurs in the Lesser Antilles. Economic value today is primarily as objective of many whale watching cruises.
Management Summary Not yet assessed
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Population/Occurrence Delineation
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Use Class: Breeding
Subtype(s): Male singing area
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: An area that is, or was, occupied by a recurring population for the purposes of courting and mating. Includes the lek-like areas occupied by singing males and by 'competitive groups' of females and attendant males. Minimally, at least two and preferably several years of observation should be used to reliably identify significant, persistent occurrences.
Mapping Guidance: All known sightings over a period of time in an area should be collectively mapped as a single polygon feature, or multiple polygons if there are individual areas separated by more than 5 km. Individual sightings could also be mapped as source feature points within this principal EO, although this may be impractical over time. If useful, year-to-year variation in areas could be mapped as separate source feature polygons within a larger multi-year principal EO.
Separation Barriers: None.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 50 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 50 km
Separation Justification: Separation distance somewhat arbitrary; set at 50 kilometers to create occurrences that are manageable for conservation purposes.
Date: 05Feb2002
Author: Cannings, S.

Use Class: Calving area
Subtype(s): Calving area
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: An area that is, or was, occupied by a recurring population for females for the purpose of calving, if this is different than the area used for courting and mating. Minimally, at least two and preferably several years of observation should be used to reliably identify significant, persistent occurrences.
Mapping Guidance: All known sightings over a period of time in an area should be collectively mapped as a single polygon feature, or multiple polygons if there are individual areas separated by more than 5 km. Individual sightings could also be mapped as source feature points within this principal EO, although this may be impractical over time. If useful, year-to-year variation in areas could be mapped as separate source feature polygons within a larger multi-year principal EO.
Separation Barriers: None.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 50 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 50 km
Separation Justification: Separation Distance arbitrary; set at 50 kilometers to create occurrences that are manageable for conservation purposes.
Date: 05Apr2002
Author: Cannings, S.

Use Class: Nonbreeding
Subtype(s): Foraging concentration area
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: An area that is, or was, occupied by a recurring population during the nonbreeding season. Minimally, at least two and preferably several years of observation should be used to reliably identify significant, recurrent foraging concentrations, i. e. those occupied by feeding whales more than 10 days per year. In most cases, occurrences should not be extensive areas, but rather portions of such areas that stand out as strongly meeting the occurrence criteria. Year-to-year changes in prey distribution (e.g. spawning areas of small marine fish) may mean that some key sites are not be occupied every year; however, occurrences should still be delineated where data indicates that the sites are important over the longer term.
Mapping Guidance: All known sightings over a period of time in an area should be collectively mapped as a single polygon feature, or multiple polygons if there are individual areas separated by more than 5 km. Individual sightings could also be mapped as source feature points within this principal EO, although this may be impractical over time. If useful, year-to-year variation in areas could be mapped as separate source feature polygons within a larger multi-year principal EO.
Separation Barriers: None.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 20 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 20 km
Separation Justification: Humpback Whales can travel significant distances daily. However, occurrences are defined primarily on the basis of areas predictably supporting concentrations of prey (e.g. small fish) and feeding whales, rather than on the basis of distinct whale populations or specific feeding groups. Separation distance similarly refers to areas of concentrated foraging; arbitrarily set to 20 kilometers in order to delineate occurrences that are manageable for conservation of prey resource.
Date: 05Apr2002
Author: Cannings, S.
Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 06Apr2011
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Hammerson, G.
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 02Feb2010
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): Hammerson, G.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
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