Humpback Whales

Bruce Mate, Michelle Fournet, Ari Friedlaender, Scott Baker

Latin name: Megaptera novaeangliae

Humpback whales were the target of commercial hunting throughout the 20th century, including illegal whaling by the former Soviet Union after the Second World War. Dr. Scott Baker has been involved with describing population structure and abundance of humpback whales around the world, using both photo-identification and genetic methods. Most recently, these results were used in defining five Distinct Population Segments in the North Pacific, as part of the listing review under the US Endangered Species Act. - Scott Baker

Humpback whales are a highly vocal migratory baleen that relies on acoustic communication for breeding, foraging, and socializing. On their foraging grounds humpback whales use a suite of poorly understood vocalizations, or social calls, which overlap in frequency with vessel noise. Michelle Fournet works with Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve evaluating how humpback whales respond acoustically to vessel noise in the marine environment. Her research is directly communicated to Park resource managers in order to reduce negative interactions between vessels and whales. - Michelle Fournet

Our group has radio-tagged and tracked humpback whales by satellite in several different oceans. Tracking from Hawaii, we found that animals migrated to feeding areas not only to Southeast Alaska but also along the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia and along the Aleutian Island chain. Tracking animals from Southeast Alaska, we learned that their migration to Hawaii was extremely direct, taking about one month of time. Tracking animals in their reproductive season from Mexico resulted in offshore tracks explaining why photographs of animals during their migration are rare and also provided information on their summer foraging destinations off Vancouver Island, British Columbia, in the northern Gulf of Alaska and with other trajectories suggesting Aleutian Island destinations. Humpbacks tagged off Gabon (equatorial West Africa) identified areas used by mothers with calves that were previously unknown. Interactions with island areas, oil and gas development areas, the first documentation of their migration route to the Antarctic, which included departures from Angola going offshore along the Walvis sea ridge. Tagging humpbacks off the Antarctic Peninsula showed migrations up the west coast of South America as far north as Peru. - Bruce Mate

Did you know? Humpback whales are long-lived and highly migratory. The can live to be over 90 years old and travel upwards of 3,000 miles between foraging grounds and breeding grounds. 


Research Article

Bejder, M., Johnston, D.W., Smith, J., Friedlaender, A. and Bejder, L., 2016. Embracing conservation success of recovering humpback whale populations: Evaluating the case for downlisting their conservation status in Australia. Marine Policy, 66, pp.137-141.