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  • Megaptera novaeangliae

    Common Name: Humpback Whale

    The Arabian Sea humpback whale population is ‘Endangered’ and remains in the northern Arabian Sea from Yemen in the west to Gujarat in the east.

    General Description: A humpback whale is more robust than other rorquals. The top of the head is flattened and covered by a number of fleshy knobs. There is a round protuberance at the tip of the lower jaw.

    From above, the head is broad and rounded. Unlike the other rorquals, the ridge along the midline on top of the head is indistinct. The number of throat grooves is 14 to 35, extending to the navel. The dorsal fin is located less than one-third of the body length from the tail fluke notch. It may be small and triangular, or larger and sickle-shaped. It frequently includes a step or hump, giving the species its common name. A humpback’s flippers are very long, measuring about one-third of the total length. They are scalloped with knobs or bumps.

    Humpbacks are black or grey, with a white region on the throat and belly. The flippers are white underneath, sometimes above as well. The tail flukes are broad and butterfly-shaped, and have some white below.

    Photo taken from the Indian Coast Guard ship, off Jakhau, Gujarat in 2015

    Size: Adults, Humpback males grow to a length of 15 m, and females to 16 m. Weights as given by different sources vary from 25 to about 65 tons. Calves at birth, 4.5m long.

    Appearance At Sea: Usually seen in family groups of three or four, Humpbacks produce a single bushy spout up to 3 m high.

    Some Humpbacks leap out of the water and lobtail prior to feeding. Humpbacks appear to enjoy breaching, and this type of behaviour attracts tourists to watch them off the east coast of the USA. A breaching Humpback launches gracefully into the air and executes a half-twist so that it lands on its back. One young animal in the Caribbean was noted breaching 130 times over 75 minutes.

    Seagulls steal fish from Humpbacks’ open mouths, but careless birds may be swallowed accidentally. The stomach of a Humpback Whale that washed ashore in England in 1825 was found to contain six sea birds.

    Commercial whaling has taken its toll on humpback whale populations in the Arabian sea.

    The singing of Humpbacks at their breeding grounds is now famous. Their songs are audible from far away. These whales do not sing at their feeding grounds, though they do communicate with each other.

    Found In: Whales are found in coastal and shelf-edge waters. They feed on swarming crustaceans and shoaling fish.

    Records from India: Humpback whale are the rarest of the four species of whales reported from Indian waters. They have been sighted, heard and reported stranded live and dead along the west coast of India, till Kanyakumari and southern Gulf of Mannar.

    World Distribution: These whales are widely distributed in all oceans.

    Could Be Confused With: At a distance, Humpback Whales may look a little like some rorquals, but the Humped back, small dorsal fin and large flippers set them apart.

    Diagnostic Features: At sea, a small dorsal fin mounted on a fleshy step or platform, enormous flippers, broad tail flukes with white markings.

    Stranded Specimens:The fleshy knobs on head and the protuberance at the tip of the lower jaw are distinctive. The baleen is also characteristic.There are 270 to 400 baleen plates on each side, the largest being up to 70 cm long and 30 cm wide. They are black with black or olive-black bristles.

    Humpback Whale

    Size comparison against an average human

    Conservation Status

    Least Concern (IUCN 3.1)

    Scientific Classification

    Kingdom Animalia
    Phylum Chordata
    Class Mammalia
    Subclass Eutheria
    Order Cetacea
    Suborder Mysticeti
    Family Balaenopteridae
    Genus Megaptera
    Gray, 1846
    Species M. novaeangliae

    Binomial Name

    Megaptera novaeangliae

    Borowski ; 1781

    Humpback Whale range.

    Source: Wikipedia