The fin whale, also known as the finback, razorback or common rorqual, is a streamlined baleen whale found in most of the world’s oceans.
Fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) are the second-largest animal in the world after the blue whale. They can reach lengths up to 88 feet and weigh up to 80 tons. Capable of speeds up to 23 mph, they are one of the fastest whale species, and were nicknamed “the greyhounds of the sea” by sailors.
Fin whales have a dark gray back and white underside, and are the only known asymmetrically-colored mammal, with a white lower jaw on the right side and a gray lower jaw on the left.
Fin whales are distributed throughout the world’s oceans, and thought to number about 120,000 worldwide.
The migration patterns of fin whales is not well understood. They are thought to migrate to subtropical waters during the winter to mate and have calves, and head to northern temperate or polar waters during the summer to feed.
Fin whales reach sexual maturity at 6-10 years of age. They are not physically full-grown until they are 30-40 years old. The gestation period is about 11 months. Calves are 18-20 feet long and weigh about 4,000 pounds at birth. Calves nurse for 6-8 months.
Fin whales make a variety of sounds when they are feeding and communicating, including grunts, moans, and “pulse” sounds. Their most common calls are 1-second grunts that go from a high-pitched to a lower-pitched sound. The sound sequences can last for over 15 minutes and are thought to travel for hundreds, and possibly thousands, of miles. Because they are of such a low frequency, they would be difficult for us to hear without special recordings.
Individual fin whales can be tracked using photo-identification research. Fin whales can be distinguished by dorsal fin shape, presence of scars, and the chevron and blaze marking near their blowholes.
In the North Atlantic, the catalog of individually-identified fin whales is maintained by Allied Whale, an organization that is part of the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine.
- American Cetacean Society. 2004. “Fin Whale” (Online), American Cetacean Society. Accessed August 14, 2008.
- Cawardine, M. Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises. Dorling Kindersley. London. 1995.
- Harrison, M. “The Kid’s Times: Fin Whale” (Online), NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. Accessed August 30 2008.
- Kinze, C.C. Marine Mammals of the North Atlantic. Princeton University Press. Princeton. 2001.