What Are The Predators Of Humpback Whales?


Humpback whales are some of the largest animals on Earth, but there are other animals that will prey on them. In this article we look at what are the most common predators of humpback whales.

There are a few species of sharks along with killer whales and humans that prey on humpback whales. However, humpback whales have some great defense mechanisms.

If you want more information on which animals prey on humpback whales and how they protect themselves, please read on.

Which Animals Attack Whales?

Humpback whales grow to a length of 50 feet which leaves many people wondering whether there are any animals that prey on such big marine mammals. However, there are animals that prey on whales.

whale tail

Humpback whales have a few natural predators. Humpback whales are found in almost all oceans, and they usually migrate from one ocean to the other.

Whales, just like any other animal in this world, are at the risk of predators. There are animals even smaller than whales that attack and kill whales for food. However, few animals manage to make prey of humpback whales.

What Are The Predators Of Humpback Whales?

Whales have a few natural predators. Here we break down which predators can kill humpback whales.

Humans

Although humpback whales have a few other predators, humans are their number one enemies. Despite the laws and regulations set aside by the International organizations, some to continue killing whales for their fat, oil and meat, among other uses.

Humans are the main reason why many whale species are endangered. Available statistics show that more than 200,000 southern humpback whales were killed by commercial operations intentionally.

Whale
Orcas or killer whales in the wild swim by a man watching from the shoreline.

In the last century, it was estimated that about 95% of all whales that died were hunted and killed by humans. Humpback whales are still hunted in some areas including whalers from Japan, Iceland and Norway.

All these actions are bending the international moratorium, which calls for stiffer measures by the International whaling commission.

Sharks

The tiger shark and the great white species of shark are very aggressive, and they can prey on humpback whales. However, it is challenging to target large whales.

This is the main reason why sharks will always target both calves and weaker humpback whales. Great white sharks have been observed off the coast of Australia following humpback whales, especially when they are migrating.

Sharks follow humpback whales as they migrate to their breeding area. As you expect, the process of preying on such big animals is not a small battle.

The sharks will follow the whales, biting them continually until the whale cannot swim any longer. The bleeding whale in the water will attract more sharks that will join in until the whale gives up.

Killer Whales

The clue is in the name; killer whales are actually killers of whales. Killer whales are likely to attack calves and the most vulnerable groups, such as the sick.

Many humpback whales have scars as a result of such attacks. The Orcas are likely to attack the whales from the tail because they assume this way they will be defenceless.

However, orcas never swim to warmer tropics which are the reason why they don’t usually attack pacific humpbacks breeds around the waters of Hawaii.

Want to know where you can see killer whales in North America. I have written an article which you can find here.

Other Threats

Whales face additional threats but especially from human activities such as chemical and organic pollution. These activities usually affect their reproductive and immune system.

Additionally, whales rely heavily on hearing and echolocation to move around the sea. What this means is that noise pollution in the waters significantly affects their life.

Humans have invested heavily on sonar systems and other technological devices to search for offshore oil and natural gases, which can interfere with their navigation.

This can affect the navigation of whales, sometimes causing them to swim into shallow waters and close to the shore. This behavior can also increase the risk of predation.

Do Whales Eat Humans?

Most whale species are friendly, but many people wonder whether whales can kill human beings. In most cases, whales will target small aquatic life forms, including krill, fish and squid.

Whale
CLOSE-UP VIEW OF YOUNG HUMPBACK WHALE HEAD

Historically, people believed that whales could consume humans, but this is not true. There are no indications that whales can eat humans.

What Can Eat A Humpback Whale?

Whales are big, and so they have few natural enemies. However, they are likely to be targeted by sharks, orcas and humans. They are also vulnerable to most human activities.

As you may know, whales migrate from one place to the other in search of breeding areas and food. When humans pollute the water with chemicals and plastics, these animals can die or have defects that will affect their immune and reproductive systems.

killer whale calf jumping

Human beings kill whales for many reasons. Some Japanese whalers target these animals for food while several other whalers target whales for their oil which is used to form candle wax, among other things.

However, there are many regulations on whale hunting that have saved these animals in the late 20th century and 21st century.

How Do Humpback Whales Protect Themselves From Predators?

The primary predators of whales are human beings, sharks and killer whales. The polar bear can attack whales, but humpback whales would be much too large for a single polar bear.

Defence Mechanisms

Humpback whales have some defence mechanisms that will help them tackle most of the challenges in the cold waters.

Tail

whale tail

The primary defence mechanism of a whale is its tail. A humpback whale can scare or injure a predator with the tail.

Like dolphins, whales can also use their head to scare away predators and other marine enemies. However, they are unable to use their head to ram predators as dolphins can.

Have you ever seen a whale hitting the water with its tail. If you have wondered why they do this, I have written an article which you can find here.

Size

The size of a humpback whale is also a natural defence mechanism. Most predators see whales as enormous animals that cannot be killed that easily.

Whale
Humpback Whale watching off the coast of Byron BayHumpback Whale watching off the coast of Byron Bay

The smaller species will travel in packs, which means they can stop a shark from swimming. Sharks should be in motion to oxygenate efficiently. Although this is not known as a very effective defence mechanism, it helps save the lives of smaller whales when they are attacked.

Because of their sizes, most sharks don’t kill whales because there are other easier sources of food in the water. However, when the great white shark is hungry enough, they are likely to attack whales for food.

Diving Deep

Humpback whales will dive deep to take refuge in the deep waters, especially when killer whales attack them. The killer whales and many other predators are unable to follow them to depths of 200 meters. Humpback whales can hold their breath for up to 30 minutes.

Migration

The migration of humpback whales to Hawaii and other tropical waters is an effective strategy of reducing the risk of their calves being attacked by killer whales. Orcas do not migrate to warmer waters.

Killer whales are present in all oceans, but they are unlikely to follow humpback whales to the more temperate areas.

Living in Groups

Whale
Humpback Whale

Researchers believe that one of the main reasons why humpback whales live in groups is to reduce the risk of predation. As a group, they can scare away predators or even attack and kill them.

Whales are known to possess some cooperative measures that scare away the predator. They usually migrate in circles with their head pointing in and the tails out. In case of any attack, each whale will use its tail accordingly to kill the predator.

Ever wondered how whales eat? You can find out here, in an article I have written.

References

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Carwardine, M. (2010). Whales, dolphins and porpoises. London: Dorling Kindersley.

Carwardine, M. (2017). Mark Carwardine’s guide to whale watching in North America : USA, Canada, Mexico, where to go, what to see. London: Bloomsbury.

Hadoram Shirihai, Jarrett, B., Graeme Cresswell and Kirwan, G.M. (2019). Whales, dolphins and seals : a field guide to the marine mammals of the world. London: Bloomsbury Wildlife.

Martin, T. (1990). The illustrated encyclopedia of whales and dolphins. Hodder.

Nowak, R.M. and Walker, E.P. (1991). Walker’s mammals of the world. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Perrin, W.F., Würsig, B.G. and J  G  M Thewissen (2002). Encyclopedia of marine mammals. San Diego: Academic Press.

Richard John Harrison and Bryden, M.M. (1990). Whales, dolphins and porpoises. London: Merehurst.

Williams, H. (1988). Whale nation. London: Cape.

Wilson, D.E. (1999). The Smithsonian book of North American mammals. Washington: Smithsonian Inst. Press.

May, J. (1990). The Greenpeace book of dolphins. London: Century.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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