Before a final moratorium on commercial whaling in 1985, all populations of humpback whales were greatly reduced, most by more than 95 percent. The species is increasing in abundance throughout much of its range but faces threats from entanglement in fishing gear, vessel strikes, vessel-based harassment, and underwater noise.
Humpback whales live in all oceans around the world. They travel great distances every year and have one of the longest migrations of any mammal on the planet. Some populations swim 5,000 miles from tropical breeding grounds to colder, more productive feeding grounds. Humpback whales feed on shrimp-like crustaceans (krill) and small fish, straining huge volumes of ocean water through their baleen plates, which act like a sieve.
The humpback whale gets its common name from the distinctive hump on its back. Its long pectoral fins inspired its scientific name, Megaptera, which means “big-winged” and novaeangliae, which means “New England,” in reference to the location where European whalers first encountered them. Humpback whales are a favorite of whale watchers―they are often active, jumping out of the water and slapping the surface with their pectoral fins or tails.
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