Climate Spotlight: Humpback Whale

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When you hear “majestic songs” and “aerial acrobatic abilities”, you might be thinking of Olympic athletes or circus performers, or you might be thinking of one of the largest animals on the planet: the Humpback Whale. These marine mammals are known for their spectacular breaching behavior, leaping high out of the water and crashing back down. Humpback whales live in all major oceans, ranging from the equator to subpolar latitudes, and have one of the longest migration routes of any mammal, traveling from tropical to polar waters. Humpback whales, shown in Figure 1, are primarily dark grey, with some patches of white. Their tail fins, or flukes, have distinct pigmentation patterns which can be used to identify individuals, like fingerprints are used to identify humans. Humpbacks can be up to 60 ft long (18 meters) and weigh between 25-40 tons (23 – 36,000 kg).

Figure 1: Physiology of humpback whales. From:
Figure 1: Physiology of humpback whales. From:

Currently, climate change is threatening Humpback Whales by altering their food supply and migratory behavior. As ocean temperatures rise, Humpback whales are tricked into migrating earlier and traveling farther. Humpbacks migrate to Antarctica to feed on krill, tiny shrimp-like crustaceans. Decreasing krill abundance in Antarctica due to climate change has negative impacts on the survival of Humpback calves.

Of the 14 distinct Humpback whale populations (Figure 2), 1 is threatened and 4 are endangered. In the United States efforts have been made to protect these iconic marine mammals through the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which prohibits the capture of marine mammals in United States waters.

Figure 1: Global distribution of humpback whale populations. From:
Figure 1: Global distribution of humpback whale populations. From:

This has been On the Ocean, a program made possible by the Department of Oceanography and a production of KAMU-FM on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station. For more information and links, please go to and click On the Ocean.

To learn more about Humpback whales, check out these links:

Script Authors: Karen Ramirez and Raley Roberts

Contributing Professor: Dr. Lisa Campbell

Editor: James M. Fiorendino