Galapagos Humpback Whale

The Humpback whale from Galapagos or Megaptera Novaeangliae has a huge body size. It is an amazing marine colossus.


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Its movements and splashing jumps in the water, make the humpback the easiest whale to observe in this Archipelago.

July, August and September are ideal months to observe these amazing marine colossus.

During these times, rich upwellings and nutrients come up to surface waters and the Galapagos whales take advantage of that.

Some humpback females reach up to 15 meters (49,2 ft) and 30 to 40 tons of weight. They get their common name after their appearance when the animal makes a dive and arches its back and fin.

The scientific name, means large wings from New England, referring to the great pectoral fins that expand to 2.5 meters (8.2 ft).

The Humpback Whale feeds exclusively during the summer and live on its fat reserves during the winter. Krill and some small schools of fish are part of their diet.

Being great migratory animals, they cover over 25.000 kilometers (15.534 miles), a world record for mammals.

Some areas in the Polar Region are feeding grounds and some areas in the Equatorial Region are breeding grounds, as is the case of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

The Humpback Whale most original feeding technique is just fantastic: Several animals form a group and surround the school of fish from underneath while they produce bubbles of air creating the shape and function of a net, which slowly closes the school of fish forcing them to come up near the surface.

Their unique hunting skill, called bubblenet feeding, involves a group of whales working together to capture schools of herring.

Each humpback whale has a particular role in the process: One whale swims in a circle while blowing bubbles under a school of herring.

When the bubbles rise, the school of herring can not escape and form into a tight ball in the center.

Other whales vocalize grunting or screaming to scare the herring to the surface.

The whales then rise with their mouths wide open to capture large amounts of fish, swallowing thousands of tiny fish in just one gulp!.

The bubble net can reach up to 30 meters (98 ft) of diameter but this depends on all participants.

This, is probably the most spectacular example of cooperative feeding amongst mammals!

The Humpback Whale is distributed all over the world.

It is a familiar sighting in the Galapagos Islands, as this Archipelago is considered a whale sanctuary, where other species occur such as the tropical Bryde's whale and Sperm whales.

Humpback whales can dive for up to 30 minutes, but usually last only up to 15 minutes.

Humpbacks can dive to a depth of 500-700 feet (150-210 m).

Humpbacks are very acrobatic, often breaching high out of the water and then slapping the water as they come back down.

Sometimes they twirl around while breaching. Breaching may be purely for play or may be used to loosen skin parasites or have some social meaning.

Spy-hopping is another Humpback Whale activity in which the whale pokes its head out of the water for up to 30 seconds to take a look around.

Humpbacks also stick their tail out of the water into the air, swing it around, and then slap it on the water's surface, this is called lobtailing. It makes a very loud sound.

The meaning or purpose of lobtailing is unknown, but may be done as a warning to the rest of the pod. Humpbacks lobtail more when the seas are rough and stormy.

Slapping a fin against the surface of the water is another unexplained Humpback Whale activity.

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.

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Humpbacks come in 4 different color schemes, ranging from white to gray to black to mottled. There are distinctive patches of white on underside of the flukes (tail).

These markings are unique to each individual Humpback Whale, like a fingerprint. The Humpback's skin is frequently scarred and may have patches covered with barnacles.

Humpback whales have 14-35 throat grooves that run from the chin to the navel. These grooves allow their throat to expand during the huge intake of water during filter feeding. They have small, round bumps on the front of the head (called knobs or tubercles), edging the jaws.

The Humpback Whale has huge, mottled white flippers with rough edges that are up to one-third of its body length, these are the largest flippers of any whale. The humpback's genus, Megaptera, means "huge-wings," referring to its flippers. The flippers may have barnacles growing on them.

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

Visitors to the Galapagos Islands have had wonderful encounters with Galapagos whales, particularly around the Islands of Bartolome and Espanola (Hood) where the amazing humpback Whale has been spotted.

See Our Recommended Galapagos Island Tours

Recommended Reading

Ecuador & Galapagos (Insight Guides)

Ecuador & Galapagos (Insight Guides)
With 250 photos and tons of great information, this is an essential addition to your pre-Ecuador and -Galapagos reading! There are better guides if you are only interested in the islands, but for a combination trip taking in Ecuador as well, it's hard to beat.

Birds, Mammals, and Reptiles of the Galapagos Islands

Birds, Mammals, and Reptiles of the Galapagos Islands
Small enough to fit into your pocket, yet containing comprehensive information and pictures of all the species you will encounter in the islands, this book is a must-have for nature lovers. Let's face it, Galapagos is largely about the wildlife. This book will NOT disappoint, and you'll have a great memento of your time with the seals, penguins and tortoises!

Galapagos: The Islands That Changed the World

Galapagos: The Islands That Changed the World
Definitely NOT a tourist's guide, but if you're like me, and find the history and geography of the islands irresistible, then this is a title you ought to invest in. Stunningly illustrated, and painstakingly researched, those of you who have been there will be enchanted again -- and those of you who have not will begin planning your trip!

Moon Spotlight Galapagos Islands

Moon Spotlight Galapagos Islands
If you're a seasoned Galapagos regular, then you will probably prefer something weightier. But for first-timers looking for simple, down-to-earth advice on where to go, what to see and the best shopping and eating on the islands, this is the book for you. Small, well-priced, and reliable!

Galapagos: Islands Born of Fire

Galapagos: Islands Born of Fire
The 10th anniversary edition of this photographer's tour of the Galapagos Islands is a stunning book, worthy of anybody's coffee table. This is a perfect post-trip talking point -- a great way to remember what you've seen, and spread the word amongst your envious friends!


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