Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) have a small dorsal fin with a distinctive
hump at the front, knobbly protuberances on the head, tip of lower jaw and leading
edge of extremely long flippers. Their flukes are broad and have a unique black and
white colour pattern, which allow individuals to be identified. They have a variable
colour but are generally black with white patches on the flippers. Adult Humpbacks
grow up to 15 m in length. They are frequent visitors to the coastal waters of New
Zealand when they undertake seasonal long distance migrations (710,000 km/yr) between
summer feeding grounds in high latitudes (Antarctica) and winter calving and breeding
grounds in tropical or near tropical waters. They travel mainly along the east-coast
and Cook Strait during winter and return along the west-coast during spring.
These whales are baleen feeders with a generalised diet, including krill and small
schooling fish (e.g. mackerel and herring). They show the most diverse feeding techniques
of all baleen whales including lunging through patches of prey, stunning prey with
their flippers and forming “bubble-nets”.
Breeding and calving both occur in winter, as gestation lasts around 11 months. Nursing
seems to continue until calves are one year old. Females typically give birth every
two to three years.