Humpback whales are found in all of the world’s major oceans. They are migratory creatures, heading to tropical or subtropical waters to breed and give birth, but feeding in krill-rich polar waters. Their migrations are impressively long. Individuals have been known to migrate from Costa Rica to Antarctica, a journey of more than 5,000 miles (roughly 8,000 km).
Humpbacks are the most commonly observed whales in the waters around the Antarctic Peninsula. They are easy to identify due to their distinctive hump, barnacled skin and huge pectoral fins. Adult humpbacks can grow to 52 feet (16 m) in length, with their massive flippers equivalent to as much as a third of their entire body length. They are slow and shallow swimmers, making them comparatively easy to spot, and when they breach they put on quite a show. Humpbacks love to throw themselves out of the water, often flinging two-thirds or more of their bodies out of the water before splashing down onto their backs. They also like to slap their fins and tails on the surface.
Despite being solitary creatures most of the time—coming together only occasionally to feed or mate—humpbacks are a wonderfully friendly species when it comes to interspecies interactions. They happily interact with other whale species and enjoy playing with bottlenose dolphins. Humpbacks have also been recorded defending other whale species, as well as seals and humans, from attacks by killer whales and sharks.
Humpback whales are famous for their complex songs, which can last for 10 to 20 minutes. Only the males make these vocalizations, leading researchers to believe that they serve to attract females and warn off other males. Humpbacks also communicate using barks, grunts and snorts. This communication is vital when humpbacks come together to feed using a learned technique known as a bubble net. The whales circle their prey while creating a corral of bubbles, forcing fish or krill into a manageable group. One whale then sounds a feeding call, signaling the whole group to swim up with their mouths open to feed on the trapped fish.