Behind The Beauty: Are Humpback Whales Dangerous?

are humpback whales dangerous

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Humpback whales are amongst the most awe-inspiring animals, evoking feelings of peacefulness, mystery, and insurmountable joy among most people.

Now the question remains, are they really that peaceful? Or are humpback whales dangerous?

With a length of 16 meters / 52 feet and a weight of 36 metric tons, there is no denying that the humpback whale has an impressive size. However, they are gentle giants that rarely engage in aggressive behavior. 

In fact, there are multiple recorded incidents where these whales have shielded dolphins, humans, and other animals from potentially dangerous situations.

One of the most publicized cases occurred in 2009 when a humpback whale was recorded saving a seal from a pod of orcas.

Although they are generally friendly towards humans, their large size does pose a significant threat, and even if accidental, humpback whales have proven before that they can indeed, be dangerous to humans.  

Are Humpback Whales Actually Dangerous?

In short, YES! Humpback whales are dangerous. Their tail fluke, for example, can grow as wide as 5.5 m / 18 feet and has enough strength to propel the whole whale out of the water when it is breaching.

Just imagine what a small blow of its tail could do to you if you were to be accidentally hit by it. 

Also, did I already mention a humpback whale weighs 36 metric tons?

If you were to be in the vicinity of a breaching humpback whale, chances are you would not be able to move out of the way fast enough in order to avoid being crushed.   

Humpback whales show aggressive behaviors towards each other during mating, when other whale groups approach calves, and sometimes when boats get too close.

One of the behaviors that is commonly observed is fin slapping against the surface which, due to their massive size, can be quite dangerous for any human in the water. 

So even though humpback whales are peaceful creatures, their giant size makes them inherently dangerous.

Are Humpback Whales Aggressive Towards Humans?

Not usually. Humpback whales tend to be curious and friendly toward humans.

There is one incident caught on video, where a whale is actively shielding marine biologist Nan Hauser from a tiger shark that she hadn’t even realized was in the water.

However, there are also a few recorded incidents of aggression directed at humans. Some of which have resulted in broken bones and internal bleeding.

In all these episodes, humans have failed to recognize that the whales are showing signs of distress due to their proximity to them.

Most, if not all, recorded events of humpback whale aggression towards humans have stemmed from people being too close to them during either breeding, where males are known to be aggressive to each other; or when a female has a newborn that she is very protective of. 

Truth is there is no reason to be worried about humpback whales while out at sea as they will not be aggressive to you as long as their personal space is respected, especially when there are mothers with calves close by. 

Can You Touch A Humpback Whale?

I would be lying if I said I didn’t grow up dreaming about swimming with and touching a whale.

Who didn’t, right?

Now that I am an adult, I have learned that some childhood dreams should not come true. Especially those that could put me, and an animal I love, in danger. 

Something to keep in mind is that a whale is a wild animal, and as such, it is prone to carrying diseases, some of which can be passed on to humans.

Humpback whales have known reservoirs of brucellosis, tuberculosis, and other infectious bacteria that can seriously harm you.

Also, you and I can, unknowingly, damage marine life with our bacteria as well.

Something important to keep in mind is that touching or feeding wildlife is illegal and highly regulated in most countries. So even though you could “technically” touch a whale, you probably shouldn’t.

The “International Whaling Commission” provides links to the guidelines and regulations regarding whale watching in every country where it is done so that you can review the rules in advance and have a safe and responsible experience. 

Can Humpback Whales Eat You?

Since biblical times you have heard the story of Jonah being swallowed by a whale and spending 3 days in its stomach.

Then came Gepetto, who was also swallowed by a whale. The idea is as fascinating as it is terrifying!

However, It is scientifically impossible for a humpback whale to eat you. 

The humpback whale is a baleen whale, meaning it is a filter-feeder that swallows large quantities of very small prey whole.

Although an adult human can easily fit inside the 3 m / 10 feet mouth of a whale, the whale’s throat is only about the size of a human fist.

There have been, however, very few incidents where people have ended up inside the mouth of a humpback whale.

They’re very rare and only last for the few seconds it takes the whale to realize it’s made a mistake. All humans that have endured this ordeal have come out unharmed. 

One of the most notorious “whale swallowing” incidents occurred in June 2021 off Cape Cod, Massachusetts where a lobster diver ended up struggling inside a whale’s mouth for about 30 seconds.

As you can guess, he lived to tell the tale.

Final Thoughts

Should you ever be so lucky as to witness humpback whales in their natural environment, just keep in mind that they are highly intelligent, curious, and caring creatures that deserve our respect as much as they deserve our awe and admiration.

Always remember that animals have distinct personalities, just like you and I, and that no 2 individuals will react in the same way to a particular situation.

Also, no matter how friendly an animal is, it will go to great lengths to protect itself and its young if it feels threatened in any way.