We carry with us a special feeling for whales. From childhood on, we are fascinated by their size and intelligence and seek out opportunities to see them whenever we travel to a destination where we might catch a glimpse. Here are some of the most interesting of the various species and some facts about each.
Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus):
Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus):
The largest animals ever to inhabit Earth, blue whales can reach lengths of over 100 feet and weigh 150 tons. With an average lifespan of 80-90 years, they are found globally in all major oceans. Despite being filter feeders that consume krill and small fish, blue whales were heavily hunted and their numbers dropped severely. Their current conservation status is Endangered. An interesting fact is that their hearts weigh about 400 pounds.
Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus)
Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus):
Distinguished by their massive square heads, sperm whales grow to over 60 feet long and can weigh over 80 tons. They have a lifespan of 70 years and are globally distributed in deep oceans. With the ability to dive over 2000 meters, they feed on squid and other deep-sea creatures. Overhunting has decreased their numbers substantially, leading to a Vulnerable conservation status. Their large heads contain a wax-filled organ used for echolocation, and they have the largest brain of any animal.
Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus)
Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus):
Fin whales can grow to over 80 feet long and weigh up to 85 tons. They have an average lifespan of 80-90 years and are found in all major oceans. They primarily eat krill and small schooling fish. Fin whale populations remain at less than half of pre-whaling numbers, earning them an Endangered conservation status. Finback whales are the second-longest after the blue whale.
Right Whales (Eubalaena glacialis, Eubalaena japonica, Eubalaena australis)
Right Whales (Eubalaena glacialis, Eubalaena japonica, Eubalaena australis):
Right whales can exceed 50 feet long and weigh up to 70 tons. They have a lifespan of 50-70 years and live in coastal temperate to subpolar waters. They eat zooplankton and krill. All three species are Endangered from past whaling and modern threats like ship strikes. Right whales are particularly vulnerable to entanglement in fishing nets and lines.
Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)
Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae):
Known for acrobatic displays, humpbacks can attain lengths of up to 60 feet and weigh 60 tons. With lifespans around 60 years, they are found globally near coasts and islands. Humpbacks filter feed on tiny crustaceans and small fish. Considered Least Concern today, populations have steadily grown since whaling bans. Their intricate songs can continue for over 20 hours at a time.
Bowhead Whale (Balaena mysticetus)
Bowhead Whale (Balaena mysticetus):
Bowheads, reaching 70 feet and 100 tons in weight, have an astounding lifespan over 250 years. Inhabiting the Arctic, they break through ice to breathe using their huge, bow-shaped mouths. They feed on krill and copepods and are listed as Least Concern after recovering from whaling. The bowhead has the thickest blubber of any whale to survive frigid polar waters.
Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus)
Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus):
Gray whales grow to 60 feet long and weigh 50 tons. With average lifespans of 70 years, they migrate incredibly long distances between Arctic feeding and Mexican breeding grounds. Bottom suction feeders, they eat amphipods and other benthic invertebrates. Classified as Least Concern but still facing modern threats like ship strikes and climate change. Their migration is the longest of any mammal.
Sei Whale (Balaenoptera borealis)
Sei Whale (Balaenoptera borealis):
Typically 49 feet long and weighing 30 tons, sei whales live about 50-60 years. They inhabit all oceans, feeding on krill and small fish. Sei whales are listed as Endangered after significant population declines from whaling. In 2015, 343 Sei whales beached themselves in the Chilean Patagonia region for reasons unknown.
Bryde's Whale (Balaenoptera edeni)
Bryde's Whale (Balaenoptera edeni):
Bryde's whales reach lengths of 50 feet and weights of 30 tons. Expected to live 50-60 years, they stay in warmer tropical and subtropical waters year-round. Their diet consists of small schooling fish like anchovies. Data Deficient in terms of conservation status. Bryde's whales have three parallel ridges on their heads unlike most other baleen whales.
Antarctic Minke Whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis)
Antarctic Minke Whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis):
The smallest baleen whales, Antarctic minkes grow to about 33 feet and 10 tons. Living 25-50 years, they live year-round in icy Antarctic waters feeding on krill. Heavily hunted for "scientific" whaling, their conservation status is Near Threatened. Minke whales are known to vocalize and create sounds that include clicks, grunts, pulse trains, ratchets, thumps, and recently discovered "boings." (NOAA.gov)
Narwhal (Monodon monoceros)
Narwhal (Monodon monoceros):
Narwhals grow up to 15 feet long and weigh over 3500 pounds, with males possessing a single long tusk. They live over 50 years in Arctic waters, feeding on fish, shrimp, and squid. Climate change is a major threat, along with hunting, earning them a Near Threatened status. Interestingly, the tusk is actually an elongated canine tooth that can grow over 10 feet long. Queen Elizabeth I paid 10,000 pounds for one tusk, a price equal at that time to the cost of an entire castle.