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Types of Whales

Species Profiles of Cetaceans - Whales, Dolphins and Porpoies


Gray Whale - Eschrichtius robustus

Gray Whale and Calf Image / Dr. Steven Swartz, NOAA/NMFS/OPR
Dr. Steven Swartz, NOAA/NMFS/OPR

The gray whale is a medium-sized baleen whale with a beautiful gray coloration that has white spots and patches. This species has been divided into two population stocks, one of which has recovered from the brink of extinction, and one that is nearly extinct.

Common Minke Whale - Balaenoptera acutorostrata

Breaching Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)
© Blue Ocean Society
Minke whales are small, but still about 20-30 feet long. There are 3 subspecies of minke whale - the North Atlantic minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata acutorostrata), the North Pacific minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata scammoni), and the dwarf minke whale (whose scientific name has not yet been determined).

Antarctic Minke Whale

In the 1990's, Antarctic minke whales were declared a separate species from the commmon minke whale. These whales are typically found in the Antarctic region in the summer and closer to the equator (e.g., around South America, Africa and Australia) in the winter. They are the subject of a controversial hunt by Japan each year under a special permit for scientific research purposes.

Sperm Whale - Physeter macrocephalus

Sperm whales are the largest odontocete (toothed whale). They can grow to about 60 feet in length, have dark, wrinkled skin, blocky heads and stout bodies.

Orca or Killer Whale - Orcinus orca

With their beautiful black-and-white coloration, orcas have an unmistakable appearance.  They are toothed whales who gather in family-oriented pods of 10-50 whales. They are also popular animals for marine parks, a practice that is growing more controversial.

Beluga Whale - Delphinapterus leucas

Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas)
© Blue Ocean Society
The beluga whale was called the "sea canary" by sailors because of its distinctive vocalizations, which could sometimes be heard through the hull of a ship. Beluga whales are found in arctic waters and in the St. Lawrence River. The beluga's all-white coloration and rounded forehead makes it distinctive from other species. They are a toothed whale, and find their prey using echolocation. The population of beluga whales in Cook Inlet, Alaska is listed as endangered, but other populations are unlisted.

Bottlenose Dolphin - Tursiops truncatus

Bottlenose dolphins are one of the most well-known and well-studied marine mammals. Their gray coloration and "smiling" appearance makes them easily recognizable. Bottlenose dolphins are toothed whales who live in pods that can range in size up to several hundred animals. They may also be found close to shore, especially in the southeastern U.S. and along the Gulf Coast.

Risso's Dolphin - Grampus griseus

Risso's dolphins are medium-sized toothed whales that grow to about 13 feet in length. Adults have stout gray bodies that may have a heavily-scarred appearance.

Pygmy Sperm Whale - Kogia breviceps

Pygmy Sperm Whale / NOAA
The pygmy sperm whale is an odontocete, or toothed whale. This whale has teeth only on its lower jaw, like the much larger sperm whale. It is a fairly small whale with a squarish head and is stocky in appearance. The pygmy sperm whale is small as whales go, reaching average lengths of about 10 feet and weights of about 900 pounds.
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