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HUMPBACK WHALE } Megaptera novaeangliae

RANGE: Found in all major oceans, not including the eastern Mediterranean or Baltic Sea

STATUS: Listed as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act; declared Vulnerable by NatureServe

THREATS: Marine pollution, ship strikes and disturbance by boat traffic, ocean noise, and entanglement in fishing gear

Humpback whales are famous for their haunting songs, which can last for up to 20 minutes and may be repeated continuously for hours upon hours. No one is sure why humpbacks sing, but since only males can do it, scientists believe the long, complex vocalizations play a key role in mate selection and might be used to establish male identity and dominance. Studies of humpbacks and their songs in 1971 led to worldwide media interest and gave the whales their rightful image as an intelligent yet mysterious species, fueling the public’s already established interest in conserving the humpback. Once hunted to the brink of extinction, many humpback populations have thankfully rebounded since the end of the commercial whaling era, but in the United States the whale is still endangered.

Photo by Joseph Mobely, NMFS