Humpback whale

Latin: Megaptera novaeangliae

IUCN Red List status: Least Concern

Physical appearance

A medium sized baleen whale reaching 16 metres (52ft) in length. The dorsal fin is very small and stumpy, with a knobbly appearance. Body colour is dark grey with a white underside and long white pectoral fins. Tail fluke is usually seen when diving. Blow is short and bushy. Humpback whales are fairly active, breaching clear of the water, side swimming and displaying more frequently that the other rorqual whales.

Manx Distribution

An occasional visitor to our waters. Until 2023 humpback whales were seen once every few years. Recorded sightings occurred in 2010, 2013, 2016 and then in 2023.

2023 was an exceptional year for this species, with the first sighting in seven years occurring in July off Niarbyl. A further two sightings occurred through the summer, one ten miles off Peel, and the other six miles off Douglas seen and photographed from the Steam-Packet vessel Manannan. Then, in early November another humpback popped up in Perwick Bay, Port St Mary. In January 2024, a further humpback photographed at Cranstal near the Point of Ayre was identified off Pembrokeshire a week later, and then Cornwall the following month. 

Worldwide distribution

Seen in most of the worlds oceans including the arctic and southern ocean. Closer to home they are found off the west coast of Ireland, the Scottish Isles and Cornwall. Very occasionally they are seen in the Irish Sea. 

Photo by Ben & Katie Hellowell at Niarbyl 2023

A highly agile species, the humpback whale often behaves more like a dolphin than a whale, breaching clear of the water, swimming on its side and displaying its tail fluke when diving. Humpbacks can breach repeatedly and create a lot of disturbance. The huge bushy blow is usually seen when the animal surfaces to breathe. 

Feeding and migration

Humpback whales posses baleen plates instead of teeth, which they use to filter huge quantities of small shoaling fish. In Manx waters this is most likely to be herring. 

The species undertakes some of the longest known migrations of any animal, spending winters in warm tropical or sub-tropical breeding grounds, before returning to cooler waters during the summertime feed. 

Photo by Jeremy Paul at Cranstal 2024

Report a Sighting

Have you seen a humpback whale in Manx waters? Report your sighting to us.