Learn About the Fascinating Habitat of the Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale Habitat
A concise write-up on the habitat of humpback whales, which also covers one of the most fascinating attributes of their life -- their migration from the polar waters to the tropics, and back.
Humpback whales are known for their long migratory journeys, averaging somewhere around 3000 miles. In a particular instance, a humpback whale covered 6,200 miles -- from the coast of Brazil to Madagascar in 2010 -- to set a new record for the longest recorded migration of any mammal. If these whales are able to migrate over such large distances, it's partly because of the large habitat that they boast of.

Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are typically characterized by their knobby head and extra-long pectoral fins. At 39-52 ft., and weighing approximately 30-40 tons, they are quite huge in themselves; and yet they can give our acrobats a run for their money. These whales are known to pull off some astounding maneuvers, and are often seen breaching and slapping the water. Owing to these very acrobatic skills, humpback whales have become quite popular among whale-watching enthusiasts across the world.

Habitat of Humpback Whales

Humpback whales geographical range
The global distribution of humpback whales

Humpback whales are found in all the oceans of the world. In fact, they boast of being one of the Earth's most widespread species, with their geographical range spanning both, the polar and tropical waters on the planet. Humpback whale habitat can be broadly divided into two parts -- the feeding grounds in the polar areas and the breeding grounds in the tropics.

With a habitat of that size, it isn't surprising that migration is one of the most important attributes of their life. In winter, humpback whales migrate for thousands of miles from the cold regions of the Arctic and Antarctic to the warm tropical areas in the lower latitudes -- mainly for the purpose of breeding. In summer, they return to the feeding grounds in the higher latitudes wherein food is available in plenty.

Humpback whales prefer near-shore areas for breeding and feeding, which, in turn, makes them vulnerable to numerous threats, including whaling and collisions with plying vessels. At present, the humpback population is estimated to be around 80,000, which has been a decent rise from the near-extinct status that they were battling a few decades ago. In the United States, Hawaiian off-shore is the only breeding ground for this species. It is estimated that somewhere around 4000 to 5000 humpbacks migrate to this region for mating and calving every year.

Humpback Whale Migration

Humpback whales migration
The migration pattern of humpback whales

Migration of humpbacks is one of the longest migrations in kingdom Animalia and that, like we said before, can be attributed to their vast habitat spanning several oceans and seas. Humpbacks from the freezing waters of Antarctica migrate north to relatively warm tropical and subtropical waters to give birth to their calves. Similarly, the humpbacks from the Arctic ocean migrate south towards the tropics. Although both the populations mate in same waters, there is no crossbreeding between the two owing to the difference of six months between the northward and southward convergences on tropical waters.

During the breeding phase between winter and spring, the humpbacks live in the warm tropical waters for 4-5 months. Journey back to the original habitat is a tedious task as they are accompanied by their young ones, and hence forced to swim close to shore. From the human point of view, this opens a totally new avenue referred to as 'whale watching' in the tourism industry. For the whales though, it's a fight for survival trying to save their young ones from the predators and, at the same time, save themselves from human onslaught.

Know the Humpback Better

humpback tail
» At 40 ft, an adult humpback whale is as big as a typical school bus in the United States. In fact, the brain of the humpback is 7 times heavier than the human brain.

» Adult humpbacks go without food in course of migration, which can last for around 5 months, and rely solely on their fat reserves to fulfill their energy requirements.

» The 5-meter long humpback whale calf weighs around 1.5 tons at birth, drinks 240 liters of milk, and puts on approximately 130 lbs every day.

» The humpback males produce a pattern of regular and predictable sounds that is generally referred to as 'whale song'. It is believed to be the longest song in the animal kingdom.

» Thanks to all those conservation measures, the number of humpbacks migrating from Antarctica to the Great Barrier Reef has increased from a few hundreds in 1960s to well in excess of 3500 today.

Like the other species of whales, even humpbacks have to fight for their basic survival. While the young calves are threatened by predators of the sea, full-grown whales fall prey to the multi-million dollar whaling industry. A few decades ago, humpback whales had reached the brink of extinction, but conservation measures initiated by the authorities contributed to their revival. In 2008, the International Union for Conservation of Nature changed the status of humpback whales from Vulnerable to Least Concern species.

Having said that, the humpback whales, or the other species of whales for that matter, are far from safe as of today. Illegal whaling industry continues to flourish in the dark, killing hundreds of whales for sheer monetary gains. As long as such culling of whales continues, the chances of their survival will always be under the scanner.