Humpback Whale

Humpback whale

Humpback whale ©Gillian Day 

Humpback Whale

Scientific name: Megaptera novaeangliae
The humpback whale is making a comeback, with more and more individuals being seen in UK seas every year. They are well known for their acrobatic behaviour - so don't be surprised to see them breach clear of the water!

Species information


Length: Up to 18m Weight: up to 40 tons Lifespan: up to 50 years

Conservation status

Considered of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of species and a Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

When to see

January to December


The humpback whale is a large baleen whale, reaching up to 18m long. They are found throughout the world's oceans and perform some of the longest migrations of any mammal. They feast on fish and krill in productive cooler waters and then travel to tropical seas to give birth. In UK seas, they are normally spotted alone or in pairs. Look out for the 5m long pectoral fins (front flippers) that give the humpback whale their scientific name: Megaptera novaeangliae - meaning Big-winged New-Englander!

How to identify

Humpback whales are unmistakable, thanks to their unique knobbly head and the long wing-like front flippers that they often raise and slap on the surface. Their body is black or dark grey with a white underside.The first sign of a whale is often the blow as they exhale at the surface; in humpback whales the blow is bushy and around 3m high.


Sporadic sightings around much of the UK, more common off Shetland Isles and Hebrides but increasingly seen in Northern North Sea.

Did you know?

Using the unique pattern of markings on the underside of its tail fluke, we know that a humpback whale seen feeding off the Shetland Isles has also been recorded in breeding grounds off Guadeloupe in the Caribbean!

How people can help

Report your humpback whale sightings to your local Wildlife Trust. If you spot a humpback whale whilst at sea, maintain a distance of at least 100m. If the whale approaches you, maintain a constant speed and allow them to interact on their own terms and leave at will. If you find a stranded whale (dead or alive), please report it to the relevant authority.