Humpback Whales in New Zealand

Facts about Humpback Whales in Kaikoura

The humpback whale is one of the most beloved and iconic species of whale found in the waters of New Zealand. These majestic mammals are known for their acrobatic displays, beautiful songs, and gentle nature. In this article, we will take an in-depth look at the anatomy and behavior of the humpback whale in New Zealand, including their physical characteristics, habitat, diet, and breeding patterns.


Humpback whales are a type of baleen whale, which means they have comb-like structures in their mouths instead of teeth. These structures, called baleen plates, are used to filter out small organisms such as krill and plankton from seawater. Humpback whales have a distinct hump on their dorsal fin, which gives them their name. They also have long flippers, which can be up to one-third of their body length, and a knobbly head with a small dorsal fin.

Humpback whales can grow to be up to 52 feet long and weigh up to 40 tons. They have a black or dark grey color on their dorsal side and a white or light grey color on their ventral side. This coloration is known as “counter-shading” and helps the whale to blend in with its surroundings when viewed from above or below.


Humpback whales can be found in all of the world’s oceans, but they are most commonly found in the Southern Hemisphere during the summer months. In New Zealand, humpback whales can be found in the waters around the North and South Islands during the months of June through November.

They are believed to migrate to the warmer waters near the equator to breed and give birth during the winter months.


Humpback whales are opportunistic feeders and will eat a variety of small organisms, including krill, plankton, and small fish. They are known to use a variety of feeding techniques, including lunging, bubble netting, and skimming.

  • In lunging the whale will swim quickly through a school of fish with its mouth open, and then close its mouth to swallow the fish.
  • When bubble netting, the animals will blow bubbles around a school of fish, and then swim through the bubbles with its mouth open, trapping the fish.
  • Skimming is when the whale swims with its mouth open just below the surface of the water, scooping up small organisms as it goes.


Humpback whales are known for their acrobatic displays, including breaches, tail slaps, and fin slaps. They are also known for their beautiful songs, which are thought to be used for communication and mating.

Humpback whales have been observed engaging in a variety of social behaviors, including spy-hopping (lifting their head out of the water to look around), logging (floating on the surface of the water), and tail slapping (slapping their tail on the water’s surface).

Breeding and Reproduction

Humpback whales reach sexual maturity at around 5-10 years of age. Breeding typically occurs during the winter months when the whales are in the warmer waters near the equator. Female humpback whales give birth to a single calf every 2-3 years.

The calf is about 15-16 feet long at birth and weighs around 2,000-3,000 pounds. The calf will nurse for 6-12 months, during which time it will gain weight rapidly and grow to be about 30 feet long.


It is important to note that humpback whale populations have been declining due to human activities such as hunting and pollution. Conservation efforts have been put in place to protect these beautiful mammals and their habitats. It’s crucial for us to understand and appreciate the anatomy, behavior and life cycle of these magnificent creatures in order to ensure their survival for future generations to enjoy.

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