Scientific name

Balaenoptera physalus


Whale SENSE Region Found:

ALASKA

ATLANTIC


Protection status

Endangered throughout its range

Protected throughout its range

Where to watch:

Deep, open ocean and in cooler waters


What to watch for:

Blow: Tall and column-like spout

Diving: Typically arches its back and tail stock prior to a sounding dive. Rarely show their fluke.

Source: International Whaling Commission

Body:

  • Black or dark brownish-gray on the back and sides, white on the underside
  • Sleek, streamlined body with a V-shaped head
  • They have distinct asymmetrical markings on the head. On the right side: the lower lip, mouth cavity, and baleen plates are white, and on the left these features are dark. 
  • Many fin whales have several light-gray, V-shaped “chevron” behind their heads
  • On many of them, the underside of the tail flukes is white with a gray border. 

Associations: Fin whales are mostly solitary, but also seen in groups of two to seven. In the Atlantic, they are seen feeding with other cetaceans such as humpback whales and Atlantic white-sided dolphins.

May be confused with:

  • Sei whale: Sei whale dorsal fins are typically more falcate than that of the fin whale.
  • Bryde’s whale: Fin whales have only one ridge on the head, unlike the Bryde’s whale which has three.

Feeding

Fin whales feed in the summer on krill, small schooling fish (including herring, capelin, and sand lance), and squid. Fin whales will lunge into a school of fish or skim the surface of the water with their mouths wide open, taking in huge volumes of water and filtering out food using the 260 to 480 baleen plates on the upper part of their mouth. This allows them to eat as much as two tons of food each day. 

Mating and Calving

Males become sexually mature at 6 to 10 years of age and females at 7 to 12 years of age. After 11 to 12 months of gestation, a pregnant female gives birth to a single calf in tropical and subtropical areas during midwinter. Newborn calves are about 18 feet long, and weigh 4,000 to 6,000 pounds!

Photo: WDC

Did you know?

  • Fin whales are the second largest species of whale
  • A fin whale killed in Antarctica was found to be around 111 years old! 
  • They have been documented breeding with blue whales, giving birth to hybrid calves.
  • They get their nickname “greyhounds of the sea” thanks to their ability to reach speeds up to 47km/hr!

Threats to fin whales

Learn more about fin whales