Humpback whales are mid-sized baleen whales that frequent our area in the summer months. They get their name “Humpback” from a small hump on their back located just in front of their small dorsal fin. These whales have a black body with white flippers (pectoral fins). These flippers are the longest of any whale, reaching up to 15 feet. This can be a third of the whale’s body length! The underside of the flukes (tail) vary in color from all white to all black with everything in between. These color patterns are unique to each whale, and allow scientists to identify individuals and keep track of them. Humpbacks also have a number of bumps on their heads, called tubercles, each containing one hair. Scientists believe the whales use these hairs as a sensory device. They have anywhere from 270-400 baleen plates on each side of their mouth.
The humpbacks we see in our area spend the winter months in the Caribbean, an area that serves as their breeding and calving grounds. Humpbacks give birth in the middle of winter to calves that weigh around a ton! These are big babies: they’re born anywhere between 13-15ft. long! They can gain as much as 100 pounds a day just by nursing on their mother’s milk! After traveling up from the Caribbean, humpbacks in our area stay in the Gulf of Maine from late spring to early fall feeding. These whales are feeding on krill (tiny shrimp-like animals) and small schooling fish including herring, sand lance, and mackerel.