Whales of the World

Overview

Whales of the World

General information

Blue Whale
Blue

Quick Facts
Order Cetacea
Suborder Mysticeti
Family Balaenidae
Species musculus
Status Endangered
Weight 150 tons
Diet Primarily Krill
Length 90 ft (average)
Home All oceans

Where Do Blue Whales Live?

How Long is a Blue Whale?

The Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus), is the largest animal to have ever lived on Earth! Blue Whales are also one of the fastest whales. They can cruise at 10 mph and reach burst speeds of 30 mph. Blue Whales can reach a length of 90 to 110 feet and a weight of up to 150 tons (300,000 pounds). At birth calves are about 27 feet long and grow quickly consuming 100 gallons of milk a day. The diet of Blue Whales is made up of one of the smallest animals in the sea, krill. The whales engulf hundreds of gallons of water to strain the crustaceans through their baleen.

A Global Whale

Blue Whales are found in all the world’s oceans. There are distinct population areas around the globe of the Blue Whale with these groups sharing genetics and acoustic signatures. Within their group range, Blue Whales will seek warmer waters for breeding and calving and seek out colder areas for feeding. There are three main regions for the Blue Whale: North Atlantic, North Pacific, and the southern hemisphere. Areas that have distinct populations are the Sea of Cortez, Gulf of St. Lawrence, Southern Ocean, Indian Ocean, and California.

Since Blue Whales will inhabit the entire breadth of an ocean basin they must communicate over incredible distances. When the sea conditions are optimum whales can communicate over an entire ocean basin… as in the distance between Hawaii and California. The male Blue Whale demonstrates his “fitness” to females by having a loud and deep song. Females can determine and choose her mate by comparing these calls. Blue whales have the lowest frequency call of all the whales. Lower frequency sounds travel further in the ocean and can aid in maintaining social structures over vast distances.

Human Impact

The only predators of Blue Whales are humans and Orcas. In the 20th century alone there was over 300,000 killed due to whaling. The population is in recovery and averages 2,000 whales off California. In the southern ocean off Antarctica there only a few thousand whales, and thus they remain endangered. Blue Whales, along with other whale species, have been granted protection from commercial hunting by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) since 1946.

Conservation Information

Whalers began hunting blue whales after the invention of harpoon guns. The pre-whaling population of blue whales quickly fell from about 350,000 to 1,000 in the 1920s. Blue whales became so scarce by 1966 that the International Whaling Commission declared blue whales a protected species worldwide. The Endangered Species Act also protects blue whales.

The present population worldwide is estimated to be 15,000 whales; with 2,000 of these living in CA coastal waters. This is the largest concentration of blue whales.

General information

Bowhead Whale
Bowhead

Quick Facts
Order Cetacea
Suborder Mysticete (Baleen)
Family Balaenidae
Species Balaena mysticetus
Status Endangered
Weight 60-100 tons
Diet Planktonic crustaceans such as krill and copepods
Size Average 60 ft
Home Arctic and subarctic waters, near pack ice

Where Do Bowhead Whales Live?

How Does a Bowhead Stay Warm in Arctic Waters?

Bowhead whales are the heaviest for their body length because their blubber (fat) is up to 28 inches thick! These huge animals are the only whales to live exclusively in the artic, where they spend their time filter feeding along the pack ice. Bowheads have the longest baleen – up to 10 feet long! These whales can be distinguished from right whales by the absence of callosities and having a white chin with black spots. Like right whales, bowheads do not have a dorsal fin. 

Bowhead whales can live a very long time Recent research indicates that bowheads can live well in excess of 100 years. Researchers at the Smithsonian Institute estimated harpoons found in the flesh of bowhead whales at 130-200 years old! The only other animals this long-lived are the giant tortoise and the giant clam. The harpoons were probably made in the late 1700s by Inupiat hunters. Additional research continues to collect data on bowhead lifespan by studying the proteins in their eyes. 

Brignole, E. and McDowell, J. Amino Acid Racemization. Today’s Chemist At Work. 2001. v. 10 Carwardine, M. Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises, Dorling Kindersley, New York. 1995 

General information

Bryde’s Whale
Bryde's

Quick Facts
Order Cetacea
Suborder Mysticete (Baleen)
Family Balaenopteridae
Species Balaenoptera edeni
Weight 16-18.5 tons

Where Do Bryde’s Whales Live?

General information

Fin Whale
Fin

Quick Facts
Order Cetacea
Suborder Mysticete (Baleen)
Family Balaenopteridae
Species Balaenoptera physalus
Status Endangered
Weight Average 80 tons, up to 140 tons
Diet Schooling fish, krill, squid, and other planktonic invertebrates
Size Average 70 feet, up to 89 feet
Home Worldwide in temperate and subpolar waters

Where Do Fin Whales Live?

How Do I Know it is a Fin Whale?

Fin whales are the second largest whale and can be easily confused with blue whales because of their large size. Fin whales, however, have a very distinctive dorsal fin and asymmetrical coloration. While blue whales have a somewhat stumpy dorsal fin and are uniformly grayish in color, fin whales have a very pronounced and falcate dorsal fin and have a whitish face on the right side and a gray face on the left side. Additionally the baleen, tongue and mouth cavity are also colored this way! Fin whales also have a pale v-shape behind their head.

Fin whales rarely show their flukes (tails.) However, they are known to breach, or come out of the water, splashing down on their sides in a spectacular display. Fin whales are indifferent to boats and will rarely approach or show curiosity. It was reported that one fin whale decided to scratch it’s back on the bottom of the Sea Explorer one day – to the delight and surprise of passengers and crew! Like other rorquals, the fin whale is thought to migrate to cooler waters in the summer time and warmer waters in the winter time. There is a resident population in the Gulf of California. Fin whales travel are found in larger groups than many of the other rorquals – usually in pods of 2-10. Like blue whales, fin whales use low frequency calls to communicate with other fin whales over long distances.

Human Impact

Hunting fin whales was banned in 1986. Fin whales, like other rorquals, were not hunted until the early 20th century because of their great speed. It took the mechanization of boats and harpoons for whalers to be able to capture fin whales. When blue whales became depleted, whalers switched to fin whales. Because they are slow growing, and slow to reproduce, their populations are slow to rebound. A few whales are taken each year by local populations in Greenland and for scientific purposes.

Wurtz, M. and Repetto, N. 2003. Dolphins and Whales. White Star S.r.I. Vercelli, Italy

Eder, T. and Sheldon, I. 2002. Whales and Other Marine Mammals of California and Baja. Lone Pine Publishing, Canada. 

General information

Gray Whale
Gray

Quick Facts
Order Cetacea
Suborder Mysticete (Baleen)
Family Eschrichtiidae
Species Eschrichtius robustus
Status Lower risk
Weight 14-35 tons
Diet Krill
Length 50 ft (average)
Home All oceans

Come See Our Majestic Giants: January – April

Where Do Gray Whales Live?

The Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus), more recently called the Eastern Pacific Gray Whale, is a whale that travels between its feeding and breeding grounds each year along the west coast of North America. Gray Whales can reach a length of 46 feet and a weight of up to 36 tons (72,000 pounds). At birth calves are about 15 feet long and weigh close to one ton (2,000 pounds).

Gray Whale Migration

The migration route of the Pacific Gray Whale is often described as the longest known mammal migration in the animal kingdom and is easily observed along the California coastline. Beginning in the Bering and Chukchi seas and ending in the warm-water lagoons of Mexico ’s Baja peninsula, their round trip journey completes over 12,000 miles.

As ice forms in the arctic, Gray Whales begin their journey south. By mid-December to early January, the majority of the Gray Whales are usually found between Monterey and San Diego, where they are often seen from shore.

By late December to early January, the first of the Gray Whales begin to arrive to the calving lagoons of Baja. These first whales to arrive are usually pregnant mothers that look for the protection of the lagoons to give birth to their calves. On occasion, we see young calves, born early, swimming with their mothers off southern California. By mid-February to mid-March, the bulk of the Gray Whales have arrived in the lagoons including those calves born along the way. It is at this time that the lagoons are filled with nursing, calving, and mating Gray Whales. 

Throughout February and March, the first Gray Whales to leave the lagoons are the males and females without calves. Once they have mated, they will begin the expedition back north to their cold water summer feeding grounds which are rich with food. Gray whales are the only baleen whales to feed along the bottom of the seafloor. They scoop up large mouthfuls of sediment and strain small invertebrates through their baleen. Pregnant females and nursing mothers with their newborn calves are the last to leave the lagoons. They leave only when their calves are ready for the journey, which is usually from late March to mid-April.

Human Impact

The only predators of adult Gray Whales are humans and Orcas. After the California Gray Whales’ breeding grounds were discovered in 1857, the animals were hunted to near extinction in these lagoons. With the marked decline in Gray Whale numbers, whaling was discontinued on this species. Gray Whales, along with other whale species, have been granted protection from commercial hunting by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) since 1946. The Gray Whale is a conservation success story. Through protection in Mexico ’s lagoons the Gray Whale population has recovered and they have been removed from the Endangered Species List. Their population along the East Pacific is estimated to be near 25,000 animals. 

Artwork Copywrighted 2008

General information

Humpback Whale
Humpback

Quick Facts
Order Cetacea
Suborder Mysticete (Baleen)
Family Balaenopteridae
Species Megaptera novaeangliae
Status Endangered
Weight Up to 53 tons, average 30 tons
Diet Krill and schooling fish
Size Up to 62 feet, average 45 feet
Home Populations in all of the world’s oceans

Where Do Humpback Whales Live?

The Singers of the Sea

If you have ever heard recordings of whale songs, chances are that you were listening to a male humpback. The exact reason that the male humpbacks sing is unknown, however, it is generally thought that they are doing it to attract a mate since they only sing in breeding season. These songs are complicated combinations of trills, whines, snores, wheezes and sighs. The songs are often sung in a repeated pattern and can last a few minutes to half an hour. A full performance may go on for several days, with only short breaks between songs. In addition to singing, courtship also involves a synchronized dance between male and female, with both animals surfacing and swimming in unison. Males can become aggressive with each other during mating season, but are otherwise quite docile. 

How Are Humpbacks Different Than the Other Rorquals?

Rorqual whales all have pleats in their throats to allow expansion of the mouth when they are filter feeding. Humpbacks are more distantly related than the other rorquals and their appearance reflects it. In comparison with the other rorquals, humpbacks have very long pectoral flippers, are more robust, and have knobs covering their flippers and face. All mysticetes (baleen whales) are filter feeders. Humpbacks often feed cooperatively by blowing circles of bubbles in the water, corralling the fish. Then one of the whales will swim up through the middle, getting a large mouthful of fish or krill. This is called bubble netting. Humpbacks are also the most acrobatic of all the baleen whales, often breaching high into the air. Humpbacks are the best known of the mysticetes. Scientists have been cataloging pictures of humpback flukes, which are very distinctive, for decades and many whales are individually known.

Human Impact

Humpbacks were hunted heavily in the 1800s and early 1900s. The catch of humpbacks began to decline in the early 1940s after a peak of 12,829 in 1912. Humpback catch reported to the International Whaling Commission was approximately 160,000 from 1910-1985. Because whales are slow growing and slow to reproduce (and perhaps due to some illegal hunting), their populations are taking a long time to recover from the decades of intense hunting. 

Wurtz, M. and Repetto, N. 2003. Dolphins and Whales. White Star S.r.I. Vercelli, Italy Eder, T. and Sheldon, I. 2002. Whales and Other Marine Mammals of California and Baja. Lone Pine Publishing, Canada. www.iwcoffice.org 

Artwork Copywrighted 2008

General information

Minke Whale
Minke

Quick Facts
Order Cetacea
Suborder Mysticete (Baleen)
Family Balaenopteridae
Species Balaenoptera acutorostrata/bonaerensis
Status Unknown, thought to be numerous
Weight Up to 15 tons, average 10 tons
Diet Krill and schooling fish
Size Up to 35 feet, average 27 feet
Home All oceans

Where Do Minke Whales Live?

Itty Bitty Minke

The Minke whale is the smallest of the rorquals (whales with throat pleats.) Even though it is the smallest, Minkes can get up to 35 feet long but are usually smaller. These whales are very elusive, yet are known to approach boats, surprising passengers. The Sea Explorer has had numerous “friendly” Minke experiences, with the whale coming right up to the boat to investigate. Usually, minkes are difficult to watch because they are fast and disappear quickly after a few breaths. 

Minkes have very distinctive coloration. They are black or dark gray with whitish whorls which extend up from the belly. They also frequently have a white band=2 0on their pectoral fins. They have a very pointed snout with a pronounced splash-guard in front of their blowholes. Their dorsal fins are large for their size and quite curved.

Human Impact

Minkes are among the last whales to be hunted. In the 1980s, the Minke whale became the most heavily hunted baleen whale, after the other whale populations were over-exploited. In 1994, after intense pressure from Japan, Norway, and Denmark, the International Whaling Commission gave permission for this whale to be hunted for scientific purposes. The whales are hunted under a scientific permit, but are consumed. 

Wurtz, M. and Repetto, N. 2003. Dolphins and Whales. White Star S.r.I. Vercelli, Italy Eder, T. and Sheldon, I. 2002. Whales and Other Marine Mammals of California and Baja. Lone Pine Publishing, Canada. 

General information

Right Whale
Right

Quick Facts
Order Cetacea
Suborder Mysticete (Baleen)
Family Balaenidae
Species Eubalaena glacialis
Status Critically endangered
Weight Average 60 tons, up to 90 tons
Diet Krill, copepods, small schooling fish
Size Average 45 ft, up to 60 feet
Home Worldwide, in very small numbers

Where Do Right Whales Live?

Why Are Right Whales Critically Endangered?

Right whales were the first and most heavily hunted whales during the height of whaling. Because they are among the slowest of the whales, and tend to float when killed, whalers found them easy targets. Right whales have thick blubber which could be rendered into oil and long baleen which was used for corset stays, buggy whips and other things. Hundreds of thousands of right whales were killed for the whale oil and the numerous other products they provided. They were called the “right whales” to hunt. Today there are fewer than 100 right whales in the north Pacific and less than 300 in the north Atlantic.

Why the Funny Face?

Right whales have a very curious set of rough, white, calloused spots on their faces called callosities. These rough patches may have developed to help the right whale defend itself from orca predation. Callosities appear white because they are usually covered in whale lice. Right whales are among the more curious and playful of the baleen whales. It is common for them to investigate boats and even bump kayakers!

Modern Threats

If we have stopped hunting right whales, why are there still so few? One of the main threats to right whales today is ship strikes. Right whales tend to surface when they perceive a threat – such as ship noise – which makes them even more vulnerable to being hit. Shipping areas can be incredibly loud underwater and right whales are not adapted to evading them. To make matters worse, in the case of the North Atlantic Right Whale, their calving grounds lie very near a major shipping area. 

Wurtz, M. and Repetto, N. 2003. Dolphins and Whales. White Star S.r.I. Vercelli, Italy

Eder, T. and Sheldon, I. 2002. Whales and Other Marine Mammals of California and Baja. Lone Pine Publishing, Canada. 

Artwork Copywrighted 2008

General information

Sei Whale
Sei

Quick Facts
Order Cetacea
Suborder Mysticete (Baleen)
Family Balaenopteridae
Species Balaenoptera borealis
Status Endangered
Weight Average 35 tons
Diet Krill and small schooling fish
Size Up to 69 feet, average 48 feet
Home Deep temperate waters world-wide

Where Do Sei Whales Live?

Can I See Sei Whales in California?

It is possible, but they are extremely rare. Additionally, they prefer deep waters and tend to stay farther out at sea. Sei whales are difficult to tell apart from the Bryde’s whale and the fin whale. The Bryde’s whale and Sei whale were at one time thought to be a single species. Sei whales have the most regular diving/breathing sequence of any of the rorquals (whales with throat pleats.) They seldom breach and are very quick swimmers.

Where Can I See Sei Whales?

The location of these whales is very difficult to predict. Migration patterns are not known and are probably irregular. It is likely that they travel to low latitudes in the winter. They are more common in the southern hemisphere and may be seen near islands, but rarely near mainland coasts. “Sei whale years” have been reported in some locales, where there are sporadic occurrences of higher concentrations.

General information

Sperm Whale
Sperm

Quick Facts
Order Cetacea
Suborder Odontoceti (Toothed whales)
Family Physeteridae (Sperm whales)
Species Physeter macrocephalus
Status Vulnerable
Weight Average 35 tons, up to 58 tons
Diet Deep water squid and fish
Size Average 48 feet, up to 69 feet
Home Deep waters world-wide

Where do sperm whales live?

How deep can a sperm whale dive?

Sperm whales are the deepest diving marine mammals, up to 10,000 feet down! They specialize in hunting giant squid and other large deep water organisms. Only beaked whales can rival sperm whales in diving ability. As sperm whales begin a dive, they exhale all of the air in their lungs which helps them cope with the intense increase in pressure. These dives can take up to two hours! While they are down, they hunt using sounds that they create and then listening for the echoes a sense called echolocation. They tremendous head is due to a oil filled organ called the melon, which serves to focus a beam of sound. This adaptation allows them to hunt in total darkness.

The social lives of Sperm Whales

Like other odontocetes (toothed whales) sperm whales live in pods of multiple animals. They are very social and pod organization can be complex. There are mainly two types of pods: reproductive pods and bachelor pods. Reproductive pods consist of females of all ages and a few males up to 100 animals. Bachelor pods are usually just a few males traveling together. Older males often travel alone. The bond between the female whales can be quite strong many of the females staying together for many years. 

Wurtz, M. and Repetto, N. 2003. Dolphins and Whales. White Star S.r.I. Vercelli, Italy Eder, T. and Sheldon, I. 2002. Whales and Other Marine Mammals of California and Baja. Lone Pine Publishing, Canada.

Artwork Copywrighted 2008