Humpback whale Experiences and Encounters

Swimming alongside these magnificent animals, with just a snorkel, is a fascinating privilege. One of the larger species of baleen whale, humpbacks can grow up to 16 metres in length and are well known for singing some beautiful songs. Named after their shape as they dive under the surface, these impressive animals are very acrobatic, often breaching high out of the water, spy-hopping and lob-tailing, e.g. slapping the surface of the water with their tails creating a loud smack. Many of these characteristics are unexplained, whether they do it as a warning, to communicate or just for fun is still unknown. Swimming between 3-9mph with bursts up to 16.5mph in emergencies, they can dive for up to 30 minutes at a time reaching depths of up to 210 metres.

You can see humpbacks of four different colours; white, grey, black and mottled, and they all have distinctive patches of white under their tails, a marking which is as unique as a fingerprint to each individual whale. Throat grooves from their naval to their throat allow them to gulp huge amounts of krill and water during filter feeding and they have small bumps on the front of their heads and spout once or twice a minute whilst resting through two blowholes causing a double stream soaring over a metre in the air. This is their equivalent of breathing. Humpbacks have unique, technical feeding habits. Working together, pods will form a circle, blowing bubbles as they swim in a spiral towards the surface – essentially forcing the prey, usually krill, plankton or other small fish, to the surface in a large concentrated mass.

Humpbacks are known for their complex, imaginative songs which have the largest frequency range used by whales. In warm waters, they create beautiful, sometimes eerie sequences of squeaks and howls that travel through calm oceans. When the water is cold, the sounds become rougher, sounding more like groans. The reason for their songs and the difference in temperature in not known but could be to do with mating season or hunting, although only males have been recorded singing.

Humpbacks make seasonal migrations and are found throughout the world’s oceans. They give birth to one calf every one to three years, with a bond between mother and calf rarely broken. 

Travelling in pods they flit in and out of friendships, with relationships lasting just a few days at most.

Expert view: Arabella Worthington

Hearing the sounds of humpbacks joyfully communicating as you swim alongside these immense creatures is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Their unique markings make them attractive to photograph, as does their powerful nature helping them to breach high above the water.  

Travelling with nws and our expert marine guides means you have the best chance of swimming with these gentle giants.

the humpback whale

Distribution

These powerful swimmers are found in all major ocean basins and are migratory, spending the summer in cooler polar waters, and then calving in tropical waters. The population living in the Arabian Sea is an exception to the rule, sticking to tropical waters year round. Humpbacks are seen as far south as Antarctica and as far north as the Canadian and Norwegian Arctic then can be seen in destinations such as Canada, Costa Rica, Madagascar, Alaska and Colombia. The four populations of humpback are known as North Atlantic, North Pacific, Northern Indian Ocean and Southern Hemisphere.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to see humpbacks in the Polar Regions is the summer, bearing in mind that the summer in the Arctic will be end of May to August, and in Antarctica will be end of October to February.  In Madagascar they migrate from July to September through a channel between the mainland and Ile Sainte Marie on their way to the breeding grounds, providing an excellent opportunity to view them. For more details on when to see them in their different areas, please contact one of our specialists.

Why book with us

We are destination specialists

Our team of specialists have extensive on-the-ground knowledge and have all lived, guided or explored in great detail the destinations that they sell. They will design your journey around you, at the right place at the right time.

We are wildlife specialists

As a leading specialist operator we have excellent partnerships with naturalists and conservationists. We know our wildlife and do what we can to preserve its natural habitat.

We really care about our destinations

At Natural World Safaris we frequently monitor the social, economic and environmental impact of our travel operations to ensure we are at the forefront of a sustainable and ethical tourism industry. 

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