Humpback Whale

Megaptera novaeangliae

This magnificent animal is well known for leaping partially clear of the water and arching its back, before deep diving. Adults and juveniles often perform antics such as fin slapping at the surface. Humpbacks migrate from the summer feeding grounds in Antarctica, where they feed on small krill (crustaceans), northwards along the east Australian seaboard to the breeding grounds in warm and sheltered waters of the Great Barrier Reef. Stocks were decimated by whaling in the 1950’s, but have partially recovered to an estimated 3700 individuals over recent years. Calves are born at 4-4.5 m long whereas adults may grow to 19 m – still only a fraction of the largest whale, the Blue Whale at 33.5 m. The annual migration of Humpback Whales is the focus of whale-watching in Queensland.

Humpbacks are distributed worldwide.

Status

Vulnerable (State and Commonwealth)

Problem

There were around 10,000 Humpback Whales off eastern Australia in 1952. In 1962, after 10 years of commercial whaling, that number had been reduced to a critically low 100 individuals.

Background Information

When Humpback whales were commercially harvested between 1952 and 1962, Australia made about 1 million pounds annually in sales of oil and other whale by-products. Today in Australia around 1.6 million people go whale watching each year earning around $265 million annually through whale-watching and associated tourist business.

Research

Independent research by Dr Robert and Patricia Paterson demonstrated that after hunting ceased in 1962, a rise in Humpback numbers could be detected as early as 1978. By 1992 the annual increase in Humpback numbers was estimated at a very healthy 10–12%. Today the east coast population is estimated at around 12,000.

Solution

Continue the world-wide ban on the capture of Humpback Whales. Limit the harvesting of krill (small shrimp-like crustaceans that drift in the ocean) in Antarctic waters.

Queensland Museum's Find out about... is proudly supported by the Thyne Reid Foundation and the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation.

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