Megaptera novaengliae

Habitat: Humpback whales typically are found in the open ocean.

Average adult size: Adults can grow to be 50 feet long.

Natural history: The Humpback whale's name, Megaptera, means "great wing." Their pectoral fins are huge and may be15 feet long. These long, white fins make the Humpback unmistakable. Humpbacks also are the only whales with a wavy edge to their tail fin or "fluke." Scientists identify specific animals with photographs of their flukes. This way they can track individuals as they migrate thousands of miles. Each animal's fluke is unique, like our fingerprints. Humpbacks are known for their "songs." Males can sing for a half an hour at a time. Since it happens in the breeding grounds, it is thought to be a courtship ritual. Another humpback trademark is the "breach," leaping almost clear of the water. Scientists speculate this behavior can rid them of skin parasites, but it is probably just fun. Humpbacks migrate each year from polar water feeding grounds to tropical water breeding grounds. They typically travel in groups of four to 12 individuals. In the cold water, humpbacks feed on krill, sardines, anchovies and other small schooling fishes. Smarter than the average bear, humpbacks encircle fish schools with nets of bubbles. Individuals swim around the school, blowing columns of bubbles, which herd the fish into a tight ball. Then they each take a turn swimming up through the middle of the "bubble net." Cooperative feeding among gentle giants.

Range: Three distinct populations: one in the North Pacific, one in the North Atlantic, and one in the southern waters.

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