A Whales Tale: Humpback Whale Lifespan

humpback whale lifespan

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The humpback whale has quite a mythical appearance, in fact, its scientific name itself suggests this majestic giant is nothing short of divine.

Megaptera novaeangliae, “big wing of New England” is a reference to the whale’s large, wing-like flippers. 

It is hard to think an animal as large and sublime as the humpback whale faces the ailments of old age we are so accustomed to seeing in each other as well as in other animal species.

In fact, the humpback whale doesn’t show any physical signs of aging!

Today I will present to you all the available information there is regarding the life and death of this charismatic giant.

Let’s dive right in as I bring you everything you need to know about the humpback whales’ lifespan.

How Long Do Humpback Whales Live For?

Humpback whales can easily live until they are at least 100 years old but of course, this is not always the case for every individual.

It is also true that there is still a lot we do not know about the secret lives these giants live under the water’s surface.

Because of the difficulty of thoroughly studying massive mammals that spend their entire lives out at sea, there is a lot of varying information available and it is constantly changing as newer and more precise methods for determining age in large cetaceans are developed. 

What Is The Oldest Humpback Whale?

This isn’t an easy question and there is a lot of conflicting information.

Before I get into it I want to remind you that the lifespan and maximum age of a humpback whale are based largely on studies into their needs and biology but could change if new information became available. 

Although there are unofficial reports of a humpback being 95 years old the only truly scientific information accessible at the moment will tell you the oldest specimen found was 48 years old. However, newer data suggests this individual might have been twice that age, so closer to 96. 

What Is The Average Lifespan Of A Humpback Whale?

Although I have already told you that these beloved whales can reach 100 years of age their average lifespan is either 40 – 90 years, or 80 – 90 depending on who you ask. 

How Do Humpback Whales Usually Die?

Unfortunately, more than half of the deaths of humpback whales are directly related to humans, 55% to be exact. And for the remaining 45% of deaths, humans are indirectly responsible for most of them.

Regarding whale deaths directly related to humans: recent studies show that about 30% of humpback whale deaths are a result of vessel strikes, and 25% are due to entanglement in fishing gear that prevents the whale from eating, coming out for breaths, or both. 

Some individuals have shown signs of the two of them, entanglement in abandoned fishing gear along with markings evidencing vessel strikes.

When it comes to deaths that are not directly related to humans starvation is the one that tends to stand out the most. 

If you want to review the complete scientific study you can find it here:

While it’s true that some animals are weaker and not the greatest at finding and catching food making their death just an example of natural selection playing its part, it would be irresponsible to turn a blind eye to the fact that human lifestyles are causing irreparable damage to the planet. 

Global warming, overfishing, pollution, industrialization, and habitat loss are all contributing factors to the fact that humpback whales have a harder time finding food today than they did many years ago.

If on top of this, you add the fact that a humpback whale needs to eat around 2 tons of food per day you will quickly realize that it is no easy feat for these huge marine mammals to consume everything they need to remain healthy. 

While it is not easy to find exact numbers concerning humpback whale deaths due to stranding, it is obvious that these episodes have greatly increased in the last few years as more and more human-operated vessels roam the oceans.

It is largely believed that sound waves caused by ships, yachts, fishing boats, etc. are negatively impacting the well-being of cetaceans by creating confusion resulting in them deviating from their regular swimming patterns and therefore ending up stranded and helpless. 

Commercial whaling is also another reason for the death of these creatures.

Even though they are protected there are several countries that refuse to abide by these guidelines and continue to hunt them as well as the regulated permitted hunts. 

When it comes to natural causes of death, because of their large size an adult humpback whale doesn’t have any natural predators besides humans but predation of calves by orcas and great white sharks is common. 

Final Thoughts

There are 2 main notions I want to highlight from this article, first of all, is the way that the human race is responsible for the deaths of so many of these majestic creatures and the importance that you and I take action in whatever ways we can to help these beautiful cetaceans.

You can start by learning more about how to live a more sustainable lifestyle that is mindful of our ecosystems.

Something else that can be done is to learn what organizations dedicated to the protection of whales are doing and get involved with their noble quest in any way you can.

And the second takeaway from this guide to the lifespan of a humpback whale is, as always, a humbling one, the fact that there is so much still to these discover from these animals and that a large part of their life still remains a mystery to us is something I find breathtakingly beautiful. 

As always, it has been my pleasure to be your guide in your quest to learn more about the splendidly sublime creatures that call our oceans their home and I hope that you have found this article as enjoyable and informative as you expected.

Can’t wait to share more of my passion for the ocean with you and I hope you now have a better understanding of the humpback whale’s lifespan.