hawaii marine mammal humpback whale

Hawaii’s Marine Mammal: Humpback Whale

The majestic humpback whale has long been revered here in Hawaii. These gentle giants of the sea are beloved by many, and for a good reason! The Hawaiian Islands host thousands of individual humpbacks during the winter months, and they are quite an experience to witness their intelligence and beauty up close.

This article will look closely at humpback whales: their behavior, range, human relations, and conservation efforts. 

Overview Of Humpback Whale

A look into the majestic humpback whale:

Gifted with the scientific name of Megaptera novaeangliae, these majestic creatures are classified as mammals and travel in pods (groups). They range in size from 48 to 62.5 feet and can weigh up to 40 tons. They have long pectoral fins, a distinctive hump on their back, and tubercles. Male humpbacks are also known for their beautiful songs, ranging from 4-33 minutes long. As baleen whales, they feed mainly on krill and small fish, but their main predator is the orca.


The whaling industry pushed the humpback whale to the brink of extinction, with their numbers falling to approximately 5,000 by the 1960s. Fortunately, their numbers have since partially recovered, with an estimated 135,000 animals worldwide. However, the species still faces major environmental threats, such as entanglement in fishing gear, collisions with ships, and noise pollution.

Humpback Whale Behavior and Diet

Humpbacks swim all over the world’s oceans and migrate a whopping 16,000 km annually. The journey starts in polar waters, where they feed and ends in tropical or subtropical areas, where they breed and give birth. Their diet consists mainly of krill and small fish, which they catch using bubbles. They’re promiscuous breeders; both sexes have multiple partners. After the young are born, they stay close to their mothers.

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Habitat and Range:

Humpback whales are among the most well-traveled creatures in the world, with an impressive 5,000-mile migration from tropical to colder, more productive feeding grounds. They can be found in all the world’s oceans, making them a global species.

Their migratory journey is a fantastic feat of endurance and strength, providing them with various habitats from the warmest waters to the coldest depths, allowing them to take advantage of the most productive feeding grounds and ensure a healthy population.

Populations, Threats and Conservation Efforts

Humpback whales were once plentiful in the seas, but a combination of commercial whaling and other threats has dramatically reduced their numbers. Four out of 14 distinct population segments are still considered endangered, with one listed as threatened.

The US recognized the plight of the humpback whale in the 1970s, listing them as endangered and taking steps to protect them. The International Whaling Commission’s 1985 moratorium on commercial harvest was a significant factor in the whales’ recovery.

Today, NOAA Fisheries is dedicated to conserving humpback whales and works with partners to reduce entanglement in fishing gear, create safer shipping lanes, and protect their habitats.

Vessel strikes, vessel-based harassment, and underwater noise are all threats that continue to face the humpback whale population. But with exemplary conservation efforts in place, we can ensure that these majestic creatures can thrive in our oceans for many generations.

Taxonomy and Scientific Classification

The humpback whale was first identified as baleine de la Nouvelle Angleterre by Mathurin Jacques Brisson in 1756. Its common name is derived from its characteristic of curving its back when diving beneath the waves. 

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It is part of the Balaenopteridae family, including blue, fin, Bryde’s, sei, and minke whales. Evidence suggests that the rorquals diverged from other baleen whales between 10.5 and 7.5 million years ago in the late Miocene period. Scientists believe that humpback and fin whales are sister species and closely related. 

Finally, modern humpback whale populations are thought to have originated in the southern hemisphere around 880,000 years ago and then colonized the northern hemisphere between 200,000–500,000 years ago.