Feasting Frenzy: What Do Humpback Whales Eat?

what do humpback whales eat

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Humpback whales are some of the most beautiful marine mammals that live in our oceans. They are named for the humps on their backs and are well known for their unique appearance and breaching behaviors.

These gigantic whales are part of the baleen whale family, which means that instead of having teeth, they have baleen that allows them to filter feed.

Humpback whales can grow as large as 16 meters in length and weigh up to a whopping 30,000kg! But size isn’t the only significant thing about the humpback whale, they also consume a huge amount of food too.

So what do humpback whales eat?

In a nutshell, these incredibly diverse eaters feed on prey such as squid, krill, haddock, mackerel, salmon, plankton, crustaceans, and more. They are not particularly fussy eaters and will feed on whatever is available to them at the time.

What Foods Do Humpback Whales Eat?

Humpback whales are omnivores that consume both animals and plants as part of their diets. These huge whales consume lots of food each day as part of their extensive diet.

These whales feed on small, shrimp-like crustaceans such as krill and shrimp by trapping them in the baleen in their mouth.

When you take into account that the average krill is only around 2 inches in length, you can see why these whales need to consume a huge quantity of food to keep them sustained.

To scoop up as much food as possible, humpback whales use a technique known as ‘bubble netting’.

Bubble netting is a group activity that involves up to several humpback whales at a time. They swim below a large group of fish and ford a circle, which herds the fish together in a tight ball.

The whales then proceed to blow bubbles that enclose and shrink the circle to compact the fish tighter and tighter.

Once the fish are herded nicely into a tight space, the whales begin to take turns swimming through the herd to gobble up as many fish as possible.

Below I’ve listed some of the most common foods that humpback whales eat as part of their diet:

  • Krill
  • Shrimp
  • Zooplankton
  • Herring
  • Salmon
  • Sea snails
  • Haddock
  • Sand slice
  • Capelin
  • Pollock
  • Phytoplankton

What Is A Humpback Whales Favorite Food?

Humpback whales are opportunistic feeders that will take any food that is available to them at the time, therefore it’s difficult to pinpoint their favorite food.

That said, these giant whales make an annual seasonal migration with some animals migrating as far as 5000 miles between high-latitude summer feeding grounds and winter mating grounds.

Humpback whales from all around the world migrate to Antarctica to feed on Antarctic Krill, so it would be fair to assume that they rather like this food source if they are willing to travel so far for it.

How Much Do Humpback Whales Eat?

Due to the humpback whales’ massive size, they need to feed on a huge amount of food every single day in order to sustain themselves.

Humpback whales can eat up to 3,000 pounds (1360kg) of food every single day, with most being small crustaceans including krill and shrimp.

That said, when they reach the abundant waters in Antarctica, humpbacks will usually eat around 4,400 – 5,500 pounds of plankton, krill, and small crustaceans every day.

They spend roughly 120 days fattening up in their feeding season to ensure they have enough fat stores and energy to make the migration back down south where they will then breed.

Usually eating twice per day to fill up on as much Antarctic krill as possible. During their migration south they will survive almost solely on the fat stores they put on in the summer months.

In the winter, they may still hunt prey, but not nearly as often as they do in the summer months when in feeding season.

What Do Baby Humpback Whales Eat?

Baby humpback whales typically stay with their mothers until they are around 11 months old and have learned all of the tricks and techniques of being a humpback.

Whilst adult humpbacks have a diverse diet, baby humpbacks start their lives by consuming only their mother’s milk which they suckle from their mother’s nipple until they can fend for themselves.

The thick milk that humpback mothers produce is packed full of fat and rich in various nutrients which help the baby humpbacks grow big and strong.

Humpback calves do not stop growing until they are around 10 months old. The milk they receive from their mothers is like a superfood that keeps them growing every day.

How Do Humpback Whales Eat Their Food?

When it comes to eating food, humpback whales are different from many other whales and marine life as they do not have teeth to crunch and chew their prey up.

Instead, they are baleen whales which means that instead of teeth they have baleen that hangs down from their mandibles to allow them to filter feed.

When humpback whales eat, they take large mouthfuls of water often scooping up 20,000 liters of water along with lots of food too.

They then filter out the water whilst their food gets stuck in the baleen. It’s an effective way for humpbacks to consume lots of food at once time and expend the least amount of energy as possible.

Final Thoughts

So, what do humpback whales eat? They have a varied diet of krill, shrimp-like crustaceans as well as many other small fish species.

These gigantic whales consume a huge amount of food in the summer months when they fatten up ready to migrate south to breed.

They are required to consume such a large amount of food as they are filter feeders that feed on tiny krill that are no longer than 2 inches in length.

Adult humpbacks will consume between 4,000 – 5,000 pounds of food every single day whilst feeding in the abundant Antarctic waters.

Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this post today and have learned something new about what humpback whales and their babies eat.

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