What Do Humpback Whales Eat?

Humpback whales are found in every ocean on Earth. They are intelligent creatures, that live in groups called pods.

The average humpback whale weighs around 35 tons, or 80,000 lbs, and can grow up to 50 feet in length, so the definitive answer to what do humpback whales eat is definitely; a lot of food!

The scientific name for the humpback whale is ‘Megaptera novaeangliae’. They are mammals known as cetaceans. Cetus is the Latin name for ‘whale’, which is derived from the ancient Greek word ‘kētos’, which means ‘huge fish’.

Humpbacks were almost driven to extinction during the whaling era, which came to an end around fifty years ago. As many as 90% of humpback whales were killed during this time.

Conservation efforts and legislation brought in to ban the whaling of the humpback species have seen their global numbers climb to an estimated 80,000. However, these majestic mammals are still listed as endangered species.

What do humpback whales eat is defined by the fact that humpbacks are baleen whales, which means they filter their food through baleen plates.

Baleen is bristle-like hairs that are formed from the fibrous protein keratin; the same protein that forms human fingernails and hair. Baleen hangs from the jaws of whales and is used to filter seawater and extract food from it.

What do humpback whales eat?

Humpback whales eat krill, plankton, and fishes such as anchovies, sardines, mackerel, pollock, haddock, salmon, capelin, cod, and other smaller types of fish.

So, what do humpback whales eat as part of their daily diet? The humpback whales’ large diet makes them one of the most diverse feeders in the baleen whale family.

Like the blue whale, they famously consume krill and plankton, but they also eat fish, such as anchovies, sardines, mackerel, pollock, haddock, salmon, capelin, cod and other types of fish that swim in schools.

They also prey on squid, and filter small crustaceans, like copepods, from the water through their baleen plates. To understand what do humpback whales eat, we need to look at how they hunt. Humpbacks feed primarily in summer and live off fat reserves during the winter.

Humpback Whale Filter feeding

By swimming towards a group of fish or krill with their mouth wide open, the whales use their baleen to trap prey in their mouths and filter the rest of the seawater out. It then swallows the collected fish and crustaceans whole.

Bubble netting

Humpbacks hunt in pods using a unique method known as ‘bubble netting’. It is a group activity that sees the whales form a large circle around their intended prey and blow a wall of bubbles towards it.  The bubbles force the fish or frill into a condensed mass and prevent them from escaping.

As the bubbles rise it pushes them to the surface of the water. The whales then take turns to feed by swimming through the compacted herd of prey with their mouths open. They then use the filter-feeding method to extract their food from the water.


Lobtailing involves stunning fish and crustaceans with the whale’s giant pectoral fins or tail fluke. They crash and slap their fins and flukes onto the surface of the water to disorientate their prey. They sometimes use bubble netting to force their prey to the surface before lobtailing them.

What do Humpback whales eat in Hawaii?

The answer to what do humpback whales eat in Hawaii, is very simple…nothing at all! North Pacific humpback whales spend the summer months in Alaskan waters, feasting on its rich feeding grounds.

They then head to Hawaii for the summer, migrating over 10,000 miles to its warmer waters, where they partake in their mating season.

During this time they live off the fat on their body, stored as blubber. The only whales that eat in this time, are young calves that nurse on their mother’s rich milk.

How much does a whale eat in a day?

On average a humpback whale will eat around 5,000 pounds of food in a day. As the humpback uses its baleen to catch its prey, it consumes a large volume of food each day. In general, humpbacks will feed twice a day.

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