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Types of Whales

Species Profiles of Cetaceans - Whales, Dolphins and Porpoies


There are about 86 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises in the Order Cetacea, which is further divided into two sub-orders, the Odontocetes, or toothed whales and the Mysticetes, or baleen whales. Cetaceans can differ greatly in their appearance, distribution, and behavior. Learn about and see photos of featured cetacean species.

Blue Whale - Balaenoptera musculus

Blue Whale - Balaenoptera musculus picture
© Blue Ocean Society
Blue whales are thought to be the largest animal ever to live on the Earth. They reach lengths up to about 100 feet and weights of an amazing 100-150 tons. Their skin is a beautiful gray-blue color, often with a mottling of light spots.

Fin Whale - Balaenoptera physalus

Fin whale image, showing scar on right side.
© Blue Ocean Society
The fin whale is the second-largest animal in the world. Its sleek appearance caused sailors to call it the "greyhound of the sea." Fin whales are a streamlined baleen whale and the only animal known to be asymmetrically-colored, as they have a white patch on their lower jaw on their right side, and this is absent on the whale's left side.

Sei Whale - Balaenoptera borealis

Sei (pronounced "say") whales are one of the fastest whales species. They are a streamlined animal with a dark back and white underside and very curved dorsal fin. Their name came from the Norwegian word for pollock (a type of fish) - seje - because sei whales and pollock often appeared off the coast of Norway at the same time.

Humpback Whale - Megaptera novaeangliae

Humpback Whale Image - Fringe Fluke
© Blue Ocean Society
The humpback whale is known as the "big-winged New Englander" because it has long pectoral fins, or flippers, and the first humpback scientifically described was in New England waters. Its majestic tail and variety of spectacular behaviors make this whale a favorite of whale watchers. Humpbacks are a medium-sized baleen whale and have a thick blubber layer, making them clumsier in appearance than some of their more streamlined relatives. However, they are still well-known for their spectacular breaching behavior, which involves the whale jumping out of the water. The exact reason for this behavior is still unknown.

Bowhead Whale - Balaena mysticetus

The bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) got its name from its high, arched jaw that resembles a bow. They are a cold-water whale that lives in the Arctic. The bowhead's blubber layer is over 1 1/2 feet thick, which provides insulation against the cold waters in which they live. Bowheads are still hunted by natives whalers in the Arctic. 

North Atlantic Right Whale - Eubalaena glacialis

North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) Head
© Blue Ocean Society
The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered marine mammals, with only about 400 individuals remaining. It was known as the "right" whale to hunt by whalers because of its slow speed, tendency to float when killed, and thick blubber layer. The callosities on the right whale's head help scientists identify and catalog individuals. Right whales spend their summer feeding season in cold, northern latitudes off Canada and New England and their winter breeding season off the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

Southern Right Whale - Eubalaena australis

The southern right whale is a large, bulky-looking baleen whale that reaches lengths of 45-55 feet and weights up to 60 tons. They have the curious habit of "sailing" in strong winds by lifting its huge tail flukes above the water surface. Like many other large whale species, the southern right whale migrates between warmer, low-latitude breeding grounds and colder, high-latitude feeding grounds. Their breeding grounds are fairly distinct, and include South Africa, Argentina, Australia, and parts of New Zealand.

North Pacific Right Whale - Eubalaena japonica

North Pacific right whales have dwindled in population so much that there are only a few hundred remaining. There is a western population that is found in the Sea of Okhotsk off Russia, which is thought to number in the hundreds, and an eastern population that lives in the Bering Sea off Alaska. This population numbers about 30.

Bryde's Whale - Balaenoptera brydei

The Bryde's (pronounced "broodus") whale is named for Johan Bryde, who built the first whaling stations in South Africa. These whales are 40-55 feet long and weigh up to about 45 tons. They are found most frequently in tropical and subtropical waters. There may be two Bryde's whale species - a coastal species (which would be called Balaenoptera edeni) and an offshore form (Balaenoptera brydei).

Omura's Whale - Balaenoptera omurai

Omura's whale was designated as a species in 2003. Originally, it was thought to be a smaller form of the Bryde's whale. This whale species is not well-known. They are thought to reach lengths of about 40 feet and weights of about 22 tons, and live in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
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