Humpback Whales

Scientific Name:  Megaptera novaeangliae

When is the best time to view Humpback Whales in Monterey Bay and where is the best viewing?

From May through mid-December, humpback whales come to Monterey Bay to hunt small prey such as anchovies and krill.  For guaranteed whale sightings, Monterey offers several whale watching boat excursions leaving daily from Fisherman’s Wharf or Moss Landing. 

Humpback whales are also frequently spotted from shore, so keep your eyes open for whale spouts when spending time at Asilomar State Beach, Point Sur Lighthouse and along Highway 1.  Another popular spot to see Humpbacks feeding close to shore is near the beaches of Moss Landing which is located at the tip the Monterey Submarine Canyon where prey tends to be plentiful.  


About Humpback Whales

Humpbacks have huge, mottled white flippers with rough edges that are up to one-third of its body length and are the largest flippers of any whale.  Additionally, a Humpback’s tail (called a fluke) is as unique as a fingerprint.  Scientists use flukes to identify individual whales by their shape, color pattern, and scars.

Humpback whales have been considered an endangered species since 1966, and populations are believed to be increasing in much of their range.  Once hunted to the brink of extinction, a recent world population estimates about 40,000 - 60,000 humpback whales remain - or about 30 percent of their original population prior to whaling.  This includes three separate populations of humpbacks in the North Pacific, North Atlantic, and the Southern Hemisphere, all of which participate in massive annual migrations.

Humpback whales travel great distances during their seasonal migration, the farthest migration of any mammal. The longest recorded migration was 5,160 miles from Costa Rica to Antarctica!  During migrations, Humpback whales may cover over 1,000 miles per month.  While the average migration speed for a humpback is 3-9 mph, they can swim up to 15 mph and have amazing endurance.  A common annual migration route on the west coast is from Alaska to Hawaii each year (3,000 miles). Scientists have discovered humpbacks that have made this trip in as little as 36 days.


Humpback Whale Fun Facts

  • Only male humpbacks are responsible for singing, as songs are primarily a mating signal.

  • Humpbacks breathe voluntarily. Since they have to remember to breathe, researchers believe they shut off half of their brain at a time to sleep.

  • Humpbacks can eat up to a ton of food a day, but only feed in summer and live off fat reserves in winter.

  • Newborn humpback calves can eat 100 pounds of their mother's milk a day.

Habitat: Oceans around the world

Size: 40 - 50 feet long weighing up to 48 tons (compared to the largest land animal - an adult male African Elephant may weigh up to 7 tons).

Diet: fish and krill

Lifespan: 45-50 years