Ocean Threats: Do Humpback Whales Have Predators?

do humpback whales have predators

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Humpbacks are some of the most impressive species of whale. They can grow as large as 15 – 16m and can weigh as much as 25,000 – 30,000 pounds.

They can be found in all of the world’s oceans, traveling the high seas from their polar feeding grounds to the tropics where they breed.

But do humpback whales have predators?

Yes, humpbacks do have predators. Even whales of this magnitude are not safe from predators in the ocean.

Let’s take a closer look…

Do Humpback Whales Actually Have Predators?

Life at sea is no easy task for any marine mammal, not even the humpback whale. Despite their incredible size, they do have predators that actively hunt them.

The ocean is filled with opportunistic hunters that will take what they can get when it comes to a meal.

Although the humpback is not an easy kill for predators, there are still some apex predators that hunt humpbacks and their calves.

Below are some of the top humpback whale predators that have been known to hunt and kill these whales.


Killer whales, also known as Orca are known as “the wolves of the sea”. This is because they hunt in packs, much like wolves, and will attempt to take down even the largest mammalian prey.

Even the largest whale, blue whales are not safe from a hunting pod of Orca.

The Orca work together to separate humpback calves from their mothers, and despite the mother’s best efforts sometimes these hunts are successful.

Killer whales are incredibly intelligent and surround their prey preventing it from escaping, they then take turns biting their prey to weaken it and stop it from fleeing.


The biggest threat to humpback whales is humans. Once, there were more than 100,000 humpback whales swimming freely in our oceans.

But last century they were hunted to near extinction by humans. Just a few thousand survived, but a huge public outcry finally led to a ban on commercial whaling in 1986.

Since then, the number of humpback whales has rebounded and their population has been steadily increasing.

However, illegal whaling still goes on in some countries, and humpback whales are still hunted in some areas of the world to this day.

Pollution, illegal whaling, fishing net entanglement, and vessel strikes are all a threat to the humpback whale.

Large Sharks

One predator of the humpback whale which may come as a surprise to many is some species of large sharks.

The great white shark has been known to kill and eat humpback whales up to three times their size.

Great white sharks will often attack the fluke of humpback whales where they are most vulnerable, and then continue biting it until the whale dies from loss of blood.

Check out this drone footage which shows a great white shark attacking a humpback whale off the coast of South Africa.

False Killer Whales

False killer whales, although much smaller than humpbacks have been known to attack and kill humpback whale calves.

This species of whale is equipped with a set of large, sharp teeth and often hunts in pods, similar to that of the Orca.

Although false killer whales hunting humpbacks is incredibly rare, it has happened on some occasions and has been successful.

How Do Humpback Whales Protect Themselves From Predators?

Humpback back whales are part of the baleen family, which means that instead of teeth, they have hair-like baleen hanging from their top jaw.

This allows them to take mouthfuls of small prey such as krill and shrimp, and trap the prey in the baleen, whilst releasing the seawater from their mouth.

However, when faced with an Orca attack, baleen is much less useful than a set of sharp teeth.

The primary method for defending themselves is by using their tail. Humpbacks are incredibly powerful and one accurate swipe to an incoming attacker is enough to do some serious damage.

They can be quite aggressive when faced with danger and will use a series of tail slaps to intimidate and scare off their attackers.

This form of defense is often most successful with sharks, as they are solo hunters that don’t have the security of a pod, like the Orca.

Humpback whales are much less equipped to deal with Orca and are relying on their sheer size to deter the Orca.

One form is protection is by living in pods, just as the Orcas do. There is protection in numbers, so sticking close by their pod allows the humpback to work together and fend off any predators.

Is A Humpback Whales Predator Or Prey?

Humpback whales primarily eat krill, shrimp, and other small crustaceans. Although humpbacks are not often seen as predators, they technically are.

However, they are certainly not killing machines like some predators in the ocean.

As mentioned earlier, they don’t have teeth, so are unable to chew or tear up prey like Sharks or Orca.

If humpbacks did have large, razor-like teeth, I’m sure they would be a much more fierce predator to all types of marine life, not just krill and shrimp.

Final Thoughts

Do humpback whales have predators? Yes, they certainly do.

Humpback whales and their calves are hunted by Orca, large sharks, and even false killer whales.

Despite their large size, they can be a hefty meal for predators, which makes them a worthwhile pursuit.

Large humpback whales can be pretty defenseless against an incoming pod of hungry Orca, with only their tail and size to deter predators.

Humpbacks can often be seen traveling in groups for added protection, this helps them fend off predators much more successfully should they come under attack.

Hopefully, this post has been insightful into humpback whale predators and learning more about this amazing whale.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post and feel free to share it with others if you have found it valuable.