Baleen whale

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Baleen whales
Temporal range: late Eocene–Recent
Humpback stellwagen edit.jpg
Humpback whale breaching
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Clade: Cetancodontamorpha
Suborder: Whippomorpha
Infraorder: Cetacea
Parvorder: Mysticeti
Cope 1891

see text

The baleen whales (Mysticeti), also called whalebone whales, comprise one of two parvorders of the artiodactyl infraorder Cetacea (whales, dolphins, and porpoises).[1] They are the edentulous whales, characterized by having baleen plates for filtering food from water, rather than teeth like in the toothed whales (Odontoceti). Living species of Mysticeti have teeth only during the embryonic phase, whereas fossil Mysticeti had teeth before baleen evolved.


The taxonomic name "Mysticeti" (Latin, plural) apparently derives from a translation error in early copies of Aristotle's Historia Animalium, in which "ὁ μῦς τὸ κῆτος" (ho mus to kētos, "the mouse, the whale so called") was mistakenly run together as "ὁ μυστικῆτος" (ο mustikētos, "the Mysticetus"),[2] which Rice 1998 assumed was an ironic reference to the animals' great size.[3] An alternate name for the suborder is "Mystacoceti" (from Greek μύσταξ "moustache" + κῆτος "whale"), which, although obviously more appropriate and occasionally used in the past, has been superseded by "Mysticeti".[3]


Baleen whales vary considerably in size
See also: Whale anatomy

Baleen whales are generally larger than toothed whales, and females are bigger than males. This group includes the largest known animal species, the blue whale.

The members of the four recognized families of baleen whales can be distinguished by several external and internal features:[3]

  • The right whales (Balaenidae, the "black" right whales and the bowhead whale) are robust, have an arched upper jaw, and long and narrow baleen plates. Their heads are remarkably large — one-third of the body length — and are equipped with a long, thin rostrum and huge bowed lower lips, but lack ventral grooves. The coronoid process is missing in the lower jaw and the cervical vertebrae are fused.
  • The rorquals (Balaenopteridae) have short heads — less than a quarter of the body length — with short and wide baleen plates. They have a mostly small dorsal fin and numerous ventral grooves. The upper jaw is long and unarched and a coronoid process is present in the lower jaw, which is bowed outwards. The cervical vertebrae are unfused.

The two remaining families are intermediate in appearance between right whales and balaenopterids:

  • The pygmy right whale (Neobalenidae) have short heads — a quarter of the body length — with arched upper jaw and bowed lower lips. Their relatively long baleen plates are yellowish white with a dark outer border. Many of the ribs are broadened and flattened.
  • The gray whales (Eschrichtiidae, of which only Eschrichtus robustus is extant) are robust, have short and narrow heads, with a slightly arched rostrum, and relatively small baleen plates. Ventrally, the head has two to five deep creases.


In baleen whales, enlarged oral cavities adapted for suction feeding evolved before specializations for bulk filter feeding. In the early Eocene basilosaurid Saghacetus, the mandibular symphysis is long and rigid, the rostrum is narrow, and the edges of the maxillae are thickened, indicating an adaptation for raptorial feeding. In the toothed Oligocene mammalodontid Janjucetus, the symphysis is short and the oral cavity enlarged, the rostrum is wide, and the edges of the maxillae are thin, indicating an adaptation for suction feeding. The aetiocetid Chonecetus still had teeth, but the presence of a groove on the interior side of each mandible indicates the symphysis was elastic, which would have enabled rotation of each mandible, an initial adaptation for bulk feeding like in modern mysticetes.[4]


Paired blowholes of a humpback and the V-shaped blow of a right whale

Baleen whales have two blowholes, causing a V-shaped blow. These paired blowholes are longitudinal slits that converge anteriorly and widen posteriorly. They are surrounded by a fleshy ridge that keeps water away while the whale breathes. The septum that separates the blowholes has two plugs attached to it, making the blowholes water-tight while the whale dives.[5]


Mysticeti possess an incredibly unique form of dentition, known as "baleen plates" or simply "baleen". The evolution of this novel adaptation has had much study surrounding it, from its gradual appearance in ancestors, to other adaptations which relaxed evolutionary constraints on the baleen itself, and finally the genetic basis for the appearance of baleen. The evolutionary processes involved with this adaptation operated very slowly. These processes most likely include a mutation which caused the trait to arise, natural selection which then enforced the prevalence of the new trait and finally fixation of the trait within baleen populations. This is evidenced by the fossil record which shows ancestral forms of mysticeti who possess both baleen and regular teeth. Traits which unfortunately cannot be supported by the fossil record include behavioral traits. Researchers suggest that filter feeding as a behavior arose prior to the evolution of modern baleen.[6] Instead, individuals who invested in this behavior possessed a primitive form of baleen along with common teeth. Due to the success of filter feeding as a mode of prey acquisition, it is assumed that the selectional pressures on common teeth were lessened and thus baleen was positively selected for because it increased the fitness of individuals possessing it. Having baleen also allowed for the size of these whales to increase, as they were able to occupy a new niche and expand their food source. Another aspect of studying dental evolution in baleen whales is the genetic mutation which arose to create this novel trait. Enamelysin is coded for in baleen whales in the gene known as MMP20. When studying this gene within several species of mysticete, researchers found a very interesting SINE insertion shared by eight mysticete species, which are representative of all extant mysticete species. This insertion is what caused an end to enamel production in the common ancestor of mysticeti. Researchers argue that this is evidence that there was selection against the deleterious effects typical of a SINE insertion. It is clear that this mutation in the genome, which brought out new diversity within extant mysticeti species, is the true beginning of the evolution of baleen.[7]


These whales are either solitary or live in small groups called pods.

The humpback whale is particularly known for its acrobatics, but other baleen whales also break through the water surface with their bodies or beat it loudly with their fins. Some believe the male baleen whales try to show off in the presence of females to increase their mating success. Scientists speculate baleen whales and other cetaceans may engage in breaching to dislodge parasites, or scratch irritated skin. Breaching, and other behaviors like lobtailing, are also used to stun or kill nearby fish or krill.


In the Southern Hemisphere, huge concentrations of krill, the food preferred by baleen whales, are found during the summer. In the Northern Hemisphere, the available food is more variable, and, for example, humpbacks and fin whales can feed exclusively on krill around Antarctica, but prey on schooling fish in the Arctic. All baleen whales except the gray whale feed near the water surface, rarely diving deeper than 100 m (330 ft) or for extended periods. The gray whale feeds on bottom-living organisms such as amphipods in shallow waters.[8]


Baleen whales are not known to echolocate, but bowheads swimming under ice fields probably use sound for navigation. All baleen whales, however, use sound for communication and are known to "sing", especially during the breeding season. Blue whales produce the loudest sustained sounds of any animals: their low-frequency (about 20 Hz) moans can last for half a minute, reach almost 190 decibels, and be heard hundreds of kilometres away. Adult male humpbacks produce the longest and most complex songs; sequences of moans, groans, roars, sighs, and chirps sometimes lasting more than ten minutes are repeated for hours. Typically, all humpback males in a population sing the same song over a breeding season, but the songs change slightly between seasons, and males in one population have been observed adapting the song from males of a neighbouring population over a few breeding seasons.[9]

Filter feeding[edit]

Humpback baleen plate, with the fine hairs on interior side (facing down) of each plate

Baleen whales are carnivorous filter-feeders; they consume vast numbers of small organisms by vacuum-cleaning the ocean and not, like toothed whales, by catching prey individually. To achieve this, baleen whales typically seek out a concentration of zooplankton, swim through it, either open-mouthed or gulping, and filter the prey from the water using their baleen. The baleen is a row of a large number of keratin plates attached to the upper jaw. These plates have a composition similar to those in human hair or fingernails. They are triangular in section with the larger inward-facing side bearing fine hairs that form a filtering mat.[8]

When filter feeding, baleen whales can dynamically expand their oral cavity to accommodate enormous volumes of sea water. This is made possible by its kinetic skull joints, especially the elastic mandibular symphysis (central lower joint), which permits both dentaries to be rotated independently in two planes. This flexible jaw, which made the titanic body sizes of baleen whales possible, is not present in early whales and probably evolved within Mysticeti.[10]

Baleen whales are either continuous or intermittent filter feeders:[11]

Left: Baleen of a right whale showing the frontal subrostral gap
Right: Blue whale skeleton mounted with lower jaw widely open
Humpback skeleton with the "slingshot" jaw open

Balaenids, the bowhead and right whale, continuously filter water through their mouths and have several anatomical adaptations for skim feeding: a frontal cleft between the two rows of baleen plates (known as the subrostral gap) and a large depression inside the lower lip. These adaptations are unique to these mysticetes, as are the fused cervical vertebrae, the firm tongue, and the semicircular lips that can reach up to the narrow rostrum. Balaenids regularly clean their baleen of accumulated prey.[11] Right whales are slow swimmers with large heads and mouths. Their baleen plates are narrow and very long — up to 4 m (13 ft) in bowheads — and accommodated inside the enlarged lower lip, which fits onto the bowed upper jaw. As the right whale swims, water and prey are guided in through the subrostral gap, while the baleen filters out the water.[8] Balaenids feed chiefly on tiny copepods that are about 1 mm (0.039 in), and their baleen is finely fringed for this purpose.[12]

Intermittently filter-feeding mysticetes include the gray whale and rorquals such as the blue whale, fin whale, and humpback. They engulf a mouthful of water from which they filter the small prey using their baleen. Rorquals have several anatomical adaptations for this lunge feeding, including a loose mandibular joint, a large throat pouch with ventral folds, and a soft and agile tongue.[11] Rorquals are fast swimmers with small heads and have short and broad baleen plates. To catch prey, they widely open their large lower jaw — almost 90° — swim into a swarm, gulping water and prey. They expand the capacity of their mouth by expanding the ventral grooves by pressing the tongue down.[8] Humpbacks and other balaenopterids feed on larger prey (5–20 mm (0.20–0.79 in)) and consequently have coarser fringes than have balaenids.[12]

Life history[edit]

Female right whale with calf

Before reaching adulthood, baleen whales grow at an extraordinary rate. In the blue whale, the largest species, the fetus grows by some 100 kg (220 lb)/day just before delivery, and by 80 kg (180 lb)/day during suckling. Before weaning, the calf increases its body weight by 17 t (17 long tons; 19 short tons) and grows from 7–8 m (23–26 ft) at birth to 13–16 m (43–52 ft) long. When it reaches sexual maturity after 5–10 years, it will be 20 to 24 m (66 to 79 ft) long and possibly live as long as 80–90 years.[13]

The same life pattern can be seen in other balaenopterids; they mate in warm waters in winter to give birth almost a year later.[14] A 7– to 11-month lactation period is normally followed by a year of rest before mating starts again.[14] Adults normally start reproducing when 5–10 years old[14] and reach their full length after 20–30 years.[15][16][17] In the smallest balaenopterid, the minke whale, 3 m (9.8 ft) calves are born after a 10-month pregnancy and weaning lasts until it has reached about 5–5.5 m (16–18 ft) after 6–7 months.[18] Unusual for a baleen whale, female minkes (and humpbacks) can become pregnant immediately after giving birth; in most species, a 2– to 3-year calving period is the norm. In right whales, the calving interval is usually 3 years. Bowheads grow very rapidly during their first year, after which they hardly increase in size for several years. They reach sexual maturity when 13–14 m (43–46 ft) long. Some 19th-century harpoons found in harvested bowheads indicate this species can live more than 100 years.

Importance to humans[edit]

From the 11th to the late 20th centuries, baleen whales were hunted commercially for their oil and baleen. Their oil was used for cooking and making products such as margarine and lamp oils, while their baleen was used to stiffen corsets, as parasol ribs, and for the manufacture of various implements today more commonly made of plastic, such as combs and paper-creasing tools.

Evolutionary history[edit]

Skull of Llanocetus

The evolution of Mysticeti as evidenced by the fossil record, was a gradual one that involved the transition from toothed, to teeth along with baleen, and finally to strictly baleen.[19]Llanocetus, known from the late Eocene of Seymour Island, West Antarctica, is the earliest mysticete. It is a large animal with a basilosaurid-like skull with several mysticete-like features, including a wide, flat, and dorsoventrally flattened rostrum. Its jaw had heterodont teeth separated by wide diastemata, the cheek teeth are two-rooted and palmate with accessory denticles. Additionally, fine grooves around the alveoli indicate that the palate had a rich blood supply. Llanocetus has been interpreted as a filter feeder. Other early toothed mysticeti or "archaeomysticetes" from the Oligocene are the Mammalodontidae (Mammalodon and Janjucetus) from Australia. They are small with shortened rostra, and a primitive dental formula ([20]

The most derived group of toothed mysticetes is the aetiocetids: Aetiocetus, Ashorocetus, Morawanocetus, Chonecetus, and Willungacetus. They are known from the late Oligocene of the North Pacific, except Willungacetus, which is known from the early Oligocene of Australia. Specimens in which the teeth are preserved, are polydont to some degree and have 11 cheek teeth, one more than in basilosaurids. In Aeotiocetus, palatal foramina and sulci suggest their blood vessels supplied some kind of "protobaleen", although the earliest preserved baleen is from the Miocene.[20]

In the early 1990s, the species Janjucetus hunderi was discovered in Victoria by a surfer, and was described by Fitzgerald 2006.[21] Janjucetus was a baleen whale with sharp teeth that hunted fish and squid, as well as larger prey, potentially including sharks and dolphin-like cetaceans. These fossils hint the early baleen whales were predatory and eventually evolved into the gentler, toothless whales known today. Deméré et al. 2008 identified palatal foramina and bony impressions of the blood vessels that "feed" the baleen racks in the toothed mysticete Aetiocetus weltoni.[22] Deméré et al. concluded this discovery implies baleen whale previously possessed both teeth and baleen, and Aetiocetus serves as an intermediate adaptive role between primitive, toothed mysticetes and more derived, toothless mysticetes.[23]

The first baleen-bearing, toothless baleen whales (such as Eomysticetus and Micromysticetus) appeared in the late Oligocene.[24] The Eomysticetidae had long, flat rostra that lacked teeth and had external nares located halfway up the dorsal side of the snout. Though the palate is not well-preserved in these specimens, they are thought to have been baleen filter feeders.[20] Early baleen whales probably could not echolocate; no anatomical evidence preserved in the skulls and ear regions of any fossil baleen whales show any of the adaptations associated with echolocation as in toothed whales.[21]

Taxonomic classification[edit]

The taxonomy of extant and extinct mysticete whales has been highly debated over the past decade. The taxonomic classification of baleen whales was considerably re-evaluated by Bisconti, Lambert & Bosselaers 2013. They introduced a new superfamily, Thalassotherii, to avoid paraphyly within Mysticeti.[25] This paraphyly is referring to lowering of Neobalaenidae to the rank of subfamily, within the family cetotheriidae.[26] In addition to Neobalaenidae, several recent taxonomic and genetic studies have found strong support for the paraphyly of Balaenopteridae, due to the placement of Eschrichtiidae within the family.[27][28] Thus, Eschrichtiinae is now placed as a subfamily within Balaenopteridae.

The "" signs denote extinct families and genera.

Parvorder Mysticeti: baleen whales


Main article: List of whale species
See also: Mysticeti and Rorquals

There are 14 recognized species of baleen whales that are still around today: Antarctic minke whale, the blue whale, bowhead whale, Bryde's whale, common minke whale, fin whale, gray whale, humpback whale, northern right whale, Omura's whale, pygmy right whale, sei whale, and southern right whale.[33]

Species Description Image
Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) The blue whale is the largest animal that ever lived on Earth, much larger than the largest dinosaur. This whale has been extensively hunted in the past. Between 1930 and 1971, about 280,000 blue whales have been killed. In 1966, when it became obvious not many blue whales were left, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) declared the blue whale a protected species. Blue whales produce very low frequency sounds (even below 20 Hz), which can be detected over large distances.[34] Average length is 24 to 27 m (79 to 89 ft). The largest whale found was 33.58 m (110.2 ft) long. Females are larger than males. Typical weight is 100 to 120 metric tons (110 to 130 short tons), up to 190 metric tons (210 short tons). Average age is 70 to 90 years. The skin is blue-grey coloured, mottled with grey-white. The large body is very broad. There is a large ridge on the head leading from the tip of the snout to the blowholes. The region of the blowholes is raised. A very small dorsal fin is located about 25% of the length in front of the tail flukes. The flippers are long and thin. The tail flukes are relatively small. There are 55-88 grooves extending from the chin to the navel. These grooves allow the mouth to extend considerably during feeding. The tongue, palate and baleen are black. The baleen is wide and relatively short (less than 1 metre (3.3 ft) in length). While it has a worldwide distribution, it feeds in polar waters in summer and spends the winter in tropical and subtropical waters. Blue whales usually swim alone or in groups of two or three animals. They may group together on feeding grounds and form mixed-species groups with fin whales. The blue whale feeds almost exclusively on krill, rarely on small fish, such as capelin and sardines. Blue whales are rorquals, meaning they have long throat pleats that extend from the mouth to the naval; these skin flaps allow the whales mouth to take in huge amounts of water and sift through the krill and plankton within it. Abundance: probably about 11,200 worldwide. In the North Atlantic there are only a few hundred blue whales left. Although the numbers are increasing, the blue whale is still endangered.[35][36] Anim1754 - Flickr - NOAA Photo Library.jpg
Bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) The bowhead whale was a target of early whaling operations. It was hunted for its oil and baleen. The Inuit people occasionally take a few whales in the Bering/Chukchi/Beaufort Sea area.[37] Typical length is 14 to 18 metres (46 to 59 ft). Females are slightly larger than males. Average weight is 60 to 90 metric tons (66 to 99 short tons). Average age is 100 to 200 years, making it one of the longest-lived creatures alive today. The bowhead whale is a very stocky animal with a large head. The mouth is bowed strongly upward. The skin is smooth and free of parasites. They are blue-black in colour with random light patches on the stomach and lower jaw. There is no dorsal fin. The flippers are relatively small and paddle-shaped. The tail flukes are wide and pointed. The baleen plates are narrow (30 cm) and very long, up to 4.3 metres (14 ft). Its lives in Arctic waters, near pack ice. There are four main bowhead whale areas: Spitsbergen, Hudson Bay/Davis Strait, Okhotsk Sea and Bering/Chukchi/Beaufort Sea. Usually the bowhead is seen alone or in small groups of up to 3 animals. It feeds on small crustaceans. Bowhead whales are balaenids, meaning they use their massive baleen plates, which are the largest (14.6 feet (4.5 m)), to take in huge amounts of water; balaenids lack throat pleets, but they make up for it in head size which makes up around 40% of their body mass.[38] The Bering/Chukchi/Beaufort Sea has about 7,800 animals. The Spitsbergen stock is probably extinct and the populations in the other areas have probably only a few hundred animals.[35][36] A bowhead whale breaches off the coast of western Sea of Okhotsk by Olga Shpak, Marine Mammal Council, IEE RAS.jpg
Bryde's whale (Balaenoptera edeni) Bryde's whale is easily confused with the sei whale. At close range, Bryde's whale can be easily recognised by the three parallel ridges on the head. The sei whale has only one central ridge. Bryde's whale is known to breach often in some areas. Bryde's whale is the least hunted of the rorqual species, mainly because it inhabits tropical and subtropical waters that were closed to whaling operations, because other species had been depleted in the area.[39] Average length is 11.5 to 14.5 metres (38 to 48 ft) and average weight is 10 to 20 metric tons (11 to 22 short tons). Females can live up to 52 years of age and males up to 55 years of age. Bryde's whale has 3 ridges on the head leading from the tip of the upper jaw to the blowholes. The Bryde's whale is dark grey on the back and lighter on the belly. They sometimes have light oval scars, caused by cookiecutter sharks. The dorsal fin is small and very curved. The flippers are medium-sized and thin, and somewhat rounded at the tip. The tail flukes are almost identical to those of the blue whale. It inhabits tropical and subtropical waters, between 40N and 40S latitude.It is usually alone or in groups of up to 10. They feed mainly on schooling fish, crustaceans and squid. Bryde's whales are rorquals, meaning they have long throat pleats that extend from the mouth to the naval; these skin flaps allow the whales mouth to take in huge amounts of water and sift through the krill and plankton within it. The North Pacific population is probably about 20,000-30,000 animals. Not much is known about other areas.[35] Brydeswhale sophiewebb-swfsc-star2006.jpg
Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) The fin whale is a fast swimmer, reaching speeds of 30 km/hr. It occasionally jumps clear of the water but does so less than other rorquals. They hardly ever show their tails before diving deep.[40] Size is 18 to 22 metres (59 to 72 ft), up to 27 metres (89 ft). Females are larger than males. Northern hemisphere fin whales are on average 1 12 metres (4.9 ft) shorter than Southern hemisphere fin whales. Average age is 60 to 100 years. Weight ranges from 30 to 75 metric tons (33 to 83 short tons). The fin whale is a long and slender whale. The head resembles that of the blue whale. The fin whale is dark grey to brown in colour, with flanks that lighten towards the belly. The dark colour extends farther down on the left side than on the right. Most animals have a light chevron just behind the head. The large dorsal fin (60 cm high) is placed far back. The flippers are thin and pointed. The tail flukes are large, thin and pointed and look like blue whale flukes. It has a worldwide distribution, in deeper water. It is usually found in groups of up to 10, but larger groups (up to 100) are not uncommon. Its diet is mainly small crustaceans, but Northern hemisphere fin whales also feed on fish. Fin whales are rorquals, meaning they have long throat pleats that extend from the mouth to the naval; these skin flaps allow the whales mouth to take in huge amounts of water and sift through the krill and plankton within it; they've been seen herding fish into bait balls before engulfing them.[41] There are roughly 100,000 in the southern hemisphere, but only 30,000 in the northern hemisphere, split two to one between the North Pacific and the North Atlantic.[35][36] LMazzuca Fin Whale.jpg
Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) The gray whale spends the winter in the lagoons of Baja California, Mexico. In summer they move to Alaska to feed. They travel along the US coast and the grey whale migration can be seen from several land-based spots along the coast. The gray whale is one of the few species who have come back from the brink of extinction. After a period of intense whaling, the species was nearly extinct, but it has recovered to the point that the US has taken it off its endangered species list. This species is 13.5 to 15 metres (44 to 49 ft) in length and weighs up to 27 metric tons (30 short tons). Average age is 50 to 70 years. The grey whale is mottled grey all over. The skin on the back has large yellow and white coloured patches caused by parasites like barnacle and whale lice . The mouth is slightly bowed. They have more bristles on the tips of their upper and lower jaws than any other whale species. The grey whale has no dorsal fin but a number of bumps on the back and tail stock. The flippers are large and paddle-shaped. The baleen plates are yellowish and about 40 cm long, with long, thick bristles. It resides in the North Pacific only. The gray whale used to be present in the North Atlantic as well, but is now extinct there. In summer, they feed in the northern Bering Sea. During migration, females with calves swim together in groups of about 6 adults. Later in the migration, there are groups of three to five non-pregnant females with one or two males. The last on the migration are juvenile animals. The gray whale feeds on the bottom. The prey consists of crustaceans, molluscs and small fish. Grey whales are bottom feeders, meaning they dive down to the ocean floor and suck up the sediment; they then sift through the sediment for their prey. The Eastern population is probably about 21,000 animals and is increasing in size at about 3.2% per year. The Western Pacific population is small, probably 100-200 animals.[35][36] Gray whale Merrill Gosho NOAA2 crop.jpg
Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) The humpback whale is probably one of the best known baleen whale species. The humpback whale is famous for its songs, of which even records have been made. The function of the songs is not clear. Most likely, the songs play a role in territorial behaviour and in courting. Only the males sing. These songs can be heard over large distances. Humpback whales have developed a unique way of catching fish: they dive down, then slowly circle to the surface, blowing bubbles on the way up. This will encircle the fish in a net of bubbles. The whales then surface with open mouths in the middle of the circle, gulping up the concentrated fish. Humpback whales migrate over large distances. In the North Pacific, Humpbacks spend the winter near Hawaii or Baja Californian and in summer, move to Alaska to feed.[42] This species is up to 19 metres (62 ft) long and weighs up to 48 metric tons (53 short tons). Average age is 40 to 100 years. The humpback whale is black all over, with very long flippers, which vary in colour from black to white. There are also lighter patches on the belly and chest. The underside of the tail flukes also have patterns, which are unique for each individual. From the blowhole to the tip of the snout and laterally towards the edges of the mouth there are conspicuous hair follicles on large bumps. The dorsal fin is small and set far back (about 2/3 of the body length). Its distribution is worldwide, but they follow fixed migration patterns. In the summer, they feed in the polar regions and they migrate to warmer waters in the winter for breeding. There are three isolated populations: North Pacific, North Atlantic and Southern Hemisphere. On the calving grounds, they usually form groups of about 10-12. During migration they travel in groups of three to four. They feed on krill, plankton, and small schooling fish. Humpback whales are rorquals, meaning they have long throat pleats that extend from the mouth to the naval; these skin flaps allow the whales mouth to take in huge amounts of water and sift through the krill and plankton within it. There are about 5,500 in the North Atlantic, 2,500 in the North Pacific and about 12,000 in the Southern Hemisphere. There may also be a resident population of about 500 animals in the Indian Ocean. The humpback whale is considered to be a vulnerable species.[35][36] Humpback Whale fg1.jpg
Minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata, Balaenoptera bonaerensis) The minke whale became the target of whaling operations when the larger whales had declined to a level that made hunting them commercially unattractive. With all the larger whales reduced in numbers, the minke whales could multiply. Commercial fisheries for minke whales has restarted in Norway. In 1996, Norwegian whalers took 116 minke whales and in 1997, 503. In Greenland, the indigenous people are allowed to take 465 minke whales in 2 years.[43] This whale species is 7 to 10 metres (23 to 33 ft), making it the smallest of the baleen whales. Average age is 30 to 50 years. They weigh 4.5 to 9 metric tons (5.0 to 9.9 short tons). The snout is pointed, and there is a clear under-bite. The back is black, whereas the belly region is white. They have a distinctive white band on the long, thin flippers. They have a well-developed curved dorsal fin, which looks like the dorsal fin of the bottlenose dolphin. Most Pacific animals have a light chevron on their flanks. It prefers temperate waters, around the world. They are usually found in small groups of 6 or less. They feed mainly on shoaling fish, and also on krill and plankton. Minke whales are rorquals, meaning they have long throat pleats that extend from the mouth to the naval; these skin flaps allow the whales mouth to take in huge amounts of water and sift through the krill and plankton within it. In the North Pacific (B. acutorostrata) there are 18,000-27,000, in the Northeastern Atlantic (B. acutorostrata): 90-135,000, in the Central Atlantic (B. acutorostrata) about 60,000, and in the Southern Hemisphere (B. bonaerensis) 200-400,000.[35][36][44] Minke Whale (NOAA).jpg
Omura's whale (Balaenoptera omurai) Omura's whale, sometimes referred to as the dwarf fin whale, is a very mysterious type of whale. Prior to 2003, omura's whale was thought to be a dwarf variation of bryde's whale, and as a result, very little is known about them. This species was originally identified by only ten or so individuals. Their colouration has been reported in some individuals to resemble the fin whale, hence its nickname. Males reach a length of a mere 8.2 to 10.1 metres (27 to 33 ft), and females reach 9.8 to 11.5 metres (32 to 38 ft), making Omura's whale one of the smallest baleen whales. Their average weight remains unknown, as well as their average age.[45] Based on sightings, they are thought to travel alone and, rarely, in pairs. Since they are rorquals, they are believed to feed predominately on schooling fish. Omura's whales are rorquals, meaning they have long throat pleats that extend from the mouth to the naval; these skin flaps allow the whales mouth to take in huge amounts of water and sift through the krill and plankton within it. Their distribution remains unknown, but they are known to occupy the coasts of Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and are thought to live in the subtropical waters of the Indian ocean and the western Pacific ocean. Since this whale was discovered so recently, and their discovery was based upon nine individuals, the IUCN has listed them as "data deficient", meaning there are no accurate approximations for their population.[46] Skull of Omura's whale.JPG
Pygmy right whale (Caperea marginata) The pygmy right whale is a very elusive species; they are rarely seen in the ocean and much of what is known about them comes from dead individuals that stranded themselves onto shore, and, as a result, little is known about them. This whale was once thought to be the last surviving member of the Neobalaenidae family, but its skull shape suggests that it is part of a very ancient family of whales called Cetotheres, which branched off from modern baleen whales somewhere between 17 million and 25 million years ago; the last member was thought to die out around two million years ago.[47] The name comes from its appearance, mainly the shape of the mouth.[48] Its length is 5.5 to 6.5 metres (18 to 21 ft) making it one of the smallest baleen whale species. Their average age remains unknown. It weighs 3 to 4 metric tons (3.3 to 4.4 short tons). The lower jaw is bowed and protrudes slightly. The body is stocky. They have a dark-coloured back, which becomes darker with age, and a pale belly. This whale has a prominent dorsal fin. The flippers are small and rounded and located under the body. The tail flukes are broad. The baleen plates are yellowish and are up to 70 cm in length. It is only known from the Southern hemisphere and usually is solitary. The stomach contents of beached whales identifies plankton and krill as a large part of their diet. Hunting behaviour is not known, but, given their small lungs, it is thought they hunt near the surface.[35][36][49] Pygmy right whale size.png
Right whale (Eubalaena glacialis, Eubalaena australis, Eubalaena japonica These whales were named right whales, because for the early whalers they were the right ones to catch. They are slow, have lots of fat and stay afloat when killed. Only when the right and bowhead whales were depleted and factory ships were developed did the hunt for the rorquals start.[50] This 11 to 18 metres (36 to 59 ft) long species weighs 30 to 75 metric tons (33 to 83 short tons). Their average lifespan remains unknown, but some speculate they can live to be as old as 80. The right whale is extremely fat. There are numerous callosities on the mouth and head, caused by whale lice. They are black with large white patches on the belly. They have no dorsal fin and their flippers are paddle-shaped. The tail flukes are very wide, thin and pointed. Its distribution is in temperate oceans worldwide. The Southern right whale (E. australis) can be found from the Antarctic to Australia and South America and into the Indian Ocean. The Northern right whale (E. japonica) is found in the North Pacific, from Japan and Baja California to the Aleutians. In the North Atlantic, the Northern atlantic right whale (E. glacialis) occurs from Florida and Spain in the South to Bear Island and Spitsbergen in the north. Its social structure is usually small groups of up to 5. They feeds mainly on krill and copepods. Right whales are balaenids, meaning they use their 500 massive baleen plates to take in huge amounts of water; balaenids lack throat pleets, but their head makes up around 40% of their body mass. In the Northwest Atlantic about 1,000 are left; the Northeast Atlantic population is believed to be near extinction. The North Pacific population is probably nearly extinct. There are no signs of recovery in the Northern right whale populations. The total population of Southern right whales is probably about 1,500 and may be recovering slightly.[35][36] Southern right whale.jpg
Sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis) The sei whale is probably the fastest swimmer among the baleen whales. It can reach speeds of close to 38 km/hr. The sei whale has been hunted extensively in the past. Because this whale resembles the Bryde's whale (only at close range can one see the single ridge on the head, whereas the Bryde's whale has 3 parallel ridges), combined quotas were set for these species until 1964. The catches were also recorded together. Consequently, there is no accurate catch statistics from before that date. In the 1960s, the annual catch of Sei whales was 10-15,000 per year. Hunting of sei whales was stopped in the 1970s.[51] Typical males are 12 to 18 metres (39 to 59 ft) long, while females are up to 20 metres (66 ft) long. Males weigh up to 22 metric tons (24 short tons), females up to 24 metric tons (26 short tons). Their average age is 50 to 70 years. The sei whale is dark grey on the back and also on the underside of the tail stock. The chin, throat and belly are white. This whale often has oval white marks, caused by lampreys and cookiecutter sharks. One long ridge runs from the tip of the upper jaw to the blowholes. The dorsal fin is large and placed far back (farther than that of the fin whale). It has a worldwide distribution, but not near the pack ice. It is usually seen alone or in pairs. When plenty of food is available they may form larger groups. Diet consists mostly of krill and other crustaceans. The sei whale also feeds on capelin, pollack (in Norwegian, they are called sei; the association with this fish gave the whale its name), anchovies, herring, cod and sardines. Sei whales are rorquals, meaning they have long throat pleats that extend from the mouth to the naval; these skin flaps allow the whales mouth to take in huge amounts of water and sift through the krill and plankton within it. This species has been depleted by over-exploitation. After the end of commercial whaling for this species in 1980, no population estimates have been made. The North Atlantic population probably consists of a few thousand, the North Pacific population about 13,000 and the Antarctic populations about 40,000. This species is still vulnerable.[35] Sei whale mother and calf Christin Khan NOAA.jpg


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Further reading[edit]