Humpback whale

  • Scientific name: Megaptera novaeangliae
  • Length: Up to 15m
  • Marine mammal type: cetacean
  • Family: Balaenopteridae
  • IUCN Conservation status: Least concern
  • Protected by: CITES

Description

A pelagic species of baleen whale, measuring up to 15 metres in length. Black or dark grey dorsally, sometimes paler ventrally, with long, predominantly white pectoral flippers. The head is slender and covered in fleshy tubercles (lumps). The low dorsal fin is set well back on body.

In the North Atlantic population calves are born in the Caribbean and off Cape Verde at just over 4 metres in length in the winter, after an approximately 11 month gestation period. The species is found in small groups and feeds on krill and a variety of shoaling fish.

Where to see them

Humpback whales are found across the North Atlantic. They are opportunistic feeders and range far to find food and have been seen increasingly around the UK and Irish coasts in recent years.

The global population is thankfully recovering from the days of intensive whaling. Individuals are returning here more frequently and can sometimes be viewed from shore.

Rescues

Humpback whales are both a pelagic and coastal species, but they are often entangled in fishing gear or caught out by tidal movements.

BDMLR has successfully released entangled humpbacks in Scotland, Devon and even as far as Iceland thanks to our specialist Large Whale Disentanglement Team. However, we have also been called to humpbacks live stranded on the shore as well.

Humpback whale rescue map

What to do if you find a stranded animal?

A whale, dolphin or porpoise stranded on the beach is obviously not a usual phenomenon. These animals do not beach themselves under normal circumstances, and they will require assistance. Please DO NOT return them to the sea as they may need treatment and or a period of recovery before they are fit enough to swim strongly.

BDMLR RESCUE HOTLINE:

01825 765546 Monday-Friday 9am-5pm

07787 433412 Out of office hours and Bank Holidays

or

RSPCA hotline (England & Wales): 0300 1234 999

SSPCA hotline (Scotland): 03000 999 999

You will receive further advice over the phone, but important things you can do to help are:

  • Support the animal in an upright position and dig trenches under the pectoral fins.
  • Cover the animal with wet sheets or towels (even seaweed) and keep it moist by spraying or dousing with water.
  • Do NOT cover, or let any water pass down the blowhole (nostril), sited on top of the animal’s head. This will cause the animal great distress and could even kill it.
  • Every movement around a stranded animal should be quiet, calm and gentle. Excessive noise and disturbance will only stress it further.
  • Estimate the length of the animal and look for any distinguishing features that may give clues as to the species you are dealing with.
  • Look for signs of injury and count the number of breaths (opening of the blowhole) over a minute – this can give important clues as to how stressed the animal is.
  • Take great care when handling a dolphin, porpoise or whale; keep away from the tail, as it can inflict serious injuries – this is particularly the case with whales and it is advisable to leave handling larger whales until experienced help arrives. Avoid the animal’s breath, as it may carry some potentially nasty bacteria.
  • Provide information: Give the hotline an exact location for the animal – this can save valuable and perhaps critical time. If you have a mobile, give the number to the hotline.
  • Give an accurate description of the animal, including its breathing rate, and whether it is in surf, on rocks or sand, in the shade or in the full glare of the sun.
  • Information on weather conditions and sea state are also helpful.
  • The hotline should be informed of any attempts already made to push the animal back into the sea.
  • Maintain control.
  • Keep all contact, noise and disturbance to a minimum.
  • Under no circumstances, release the animal into the sea before the rescue team has arrived. It is fine to support a smaller dolphin or porpoise in the water, as long as the blowhole is kept above the water at all times, and as long as it is carried to the water carefully, e.g. in a tarpaulin (do NOT drag it or lift it by its fins or tail).
  • However, actually releasing the animal before it has received an assessment and first aid from experienced personnel can do more harm than good.

If you find a dead cetacean

The Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) collects a wide range of data on each stranding found on UK shores. If you discover a dead animal, please contact the CSIP hotline and give a description of the following where possible:

  • Location and date found
  • Species and sex
  • Overall length
  • Condition of the animal
  • Your contact details should further information be needed

Digital images are extremely helpful to identify to species, as well as ascertaining whether the body may be suitable for post-mortem examination. 

CSIP has produced a useful leaflet that can be downloaded by clicking here.

CSIP hotline: 0800 6520333. Callers are given a number of options to ensure they reach the correct department. You can also use this number to contact BDMLR as there is an option for live animal strandings that transfers directly to us.