Megaptera novaeangliae - The Humpback Whale

A frequent visitor along the coast of South Africa, the Humpback Whale is known for its playful antics and charming curiosity. The Humpback Whale is acrobatic, and spectators can often watch it emerging from the water and splashing playfully. They are favourites on formal whale watching tours between the months of July and December.

Did you know? Humpbacks feed only in summer, in polar waters, and migrate to tropical or subtropical waters to breed and give birth in the winter. During the winter, humpbacks fast and live off their fat reserves.

The Humpback is large and sturdy. The top of its body is dark grey or black (with a blue sheen) and the underside can be dark or light, depending on the individual animal. The slender head has bumps on top and on the lower jaw. The hump for which it is named is situated in front of the small dorsal fin. The pectoral fins are long and slender and the tail fins (or flukes) are broad with a knobbly edge.


The adult Humpback Whale boasts an average length of 11.5 to 15 m.


These whales weigh between 25 and 30 tonnes.


The Humpback Whale is a migratory animal. In winters, it can be found in the ice-cold waters of the high-latitude seas, where they are able to hunt for krill. In summer, they move downwards to warmer waters in which they breed.


These whales can be found in the oceans all over the world at different times of year. They can live in the ice-packed waters of the arctic, or the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.

The best places in South Africa to see the Humpback Whale include the Whale Coast Route outside Cape Town (which includes the whale-watching capital of Hermanus), Algoa Bay of Port Elizabeth, the Cape West Coast (including the seaside resort towns of Paternoster and Langebaan), and the Garden Route (home to hotspots like Mossel Bay, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, Natureís Valley, and Stormís River).


This is a baleen whale, meaning that they feed by sieving large volumes of water, which they suck into their mouths through hundreds of hair-like baleen plates. These trap small fish and crustaceans (krill), while the water can simply be pushed out of the mouth again.


The Humpback Whale can often be seen breaching, spyhopping and lobtailing playfully, both on formal whale-watching tours and from the shore. It is a slow swimmer, and its curiosity and intrigue has resulted in its following and approaching boats to explore them more closely. Sadly, this has made them easier prey for whale hunters.

These whales often travel alone, but may be part of pods of between three and 15 other Humpbacks. Males might become aggressive with one another, and are often the cause of scarring on the bodyís of other males.

The Humpback Whale is acclaimed for its beautiful songs. These are made up by a series of cries, howls, squeaks and moans, which can carry on for hours and travel long distances in the water. This is believed to be an integral method of communication amongst and between whales, and plays an important role in attracting potential mates.


The Humpback Whale will give birth to her calf in the warmer waters of the tropical and subtropical areas. The calf will be dependent on its mother for the first year of its life; swimming alongside her, and often sharing touches with her as an indication of their intimacy. The calf is fed on protein-rich, high-fat milk. The whale reaches sexual maturity at around five years old. Each female will give birth once every two or three years.


The Humpback Whale has a gestation period of around 11 months.

Life Expectancy

This whale is believed to have a natural lifespan of about 48 years.


The population numbers of Humpback Whales took a massive dive with the advent of hunting. Because these whales approached boats easily and inquisitively, they were easy targets. Other threats include fishing nets and pollution.

Where to see Humpback Whale in their natural habitat?

Want to go whale watching in South Africa? South Africa is known as one of the best places in the world for whale watching. Explore our 'whale watching' pages below to find out when, where and how to see the whales in South Africa...

Conservation Status
Humpback Whale
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