There are fifteen species of Baleen whales which inhabit the major oceans and seas, however, most prefer colder waters and migrate to temperate ones for breeding. These whales range in size from small to some of the biggest mammals on earth. Their characteristics also differ in terms of mating, relationships, feeding, and breeding. Studies of some of these whales are thorough but others lack enough data. Below is a general information about the whales.
15. Pygmy right whale
The specific name of the pygmy right whale is Caperea marginate and it belongs to the Cetotheriidae family. C. marginata is the smallest of all the baleen whales. The pygmy right whale feeds on krill and copepods. Lengthwise, this whale measures between 20 and 21 feet and weighs between 6,610 and 7,720 pounds. This whale is present in the Southern Ocean within the lower ends of the Southern Hemisphere. There is limited data on the whale’s behavior and population since it remains understudied.
14. Gray whale
Scientifically called Eschrichtius robustus, other names of this whale include the gray back whale, Pacific gray whale, and California gray whale. It is named gray whale because this dark-skinned whale has gray patches and white mottling. The gray whale initially went by the name devil fish because they have an aggressive defensive behavior when threatened. A mature gray whale grows to a length of 49 feet and a weight of 40 tons. Their lifespan is 55-70 years. During the year, this whale migrates between designated breeding grounds and other feeding grounds. Currently, there are three habitats for the gray whale; western North Pacific in Asia where they are an endangered species, eastern North Pacific in North America, and the Mediterranean Sea.
13. Fin whale
The fin whale, Balaenoptera physalus, has other names like finback whale and is the second largest mammal after the blue whale. Fin whales can grow to 89.6 feet lengthwise and weigh up to 126 tons, however, the confirmed length and weight are 85 feet and 82 tons respectively. Roy Chapman once described the whale as a beautiful and slender whale with the shape of a racing yacht and a super speed. The other physical feature is a brownish-gray color with a pale underside. Fin whales feed on krill, copepods, squid, and schooling fish found where they live in most of the world’s oceans, predominantly temperate and cool waters.
12. Humpback whale
The specific name of this whale is Megaptera novaeangliae. Adults weigh approximately 79,000 pounds and measure 39-52 feet. They have long pectoral fins and the head have some lumps. These whales migrate as far as 16,000 miles annually to tropical and subtropical waters where they breed. They normally feed on krill and smaller fish in polar waters and fast (utilizing their fats) when breeding. Humpback whales have a distinct behavior where males make some complex sounds that last for an hour at 10-20 minute intervals. They live individually but may come in small groups that disperse after few hours. These groups only stay longer together while feeding. Humpback whales mainly court during winters as they migrate towards the equator. The polygamous males normally fight for females, where the dominant male gets the female. Humpback whales live in all the major oceans like the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans.
11. Bryde's whale
Bryde’s whale is difficult to differentiate because of inconclusive research. The common difference is that Bryde’s whale, Balaenoptera brydei, is large and is found in the temperate and tropical waters of Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. The whale got its name from the Norwegian diplomat of South Africa, Johan Bryde, who established the country’s first whaling station. The longest whale ever caught was off the coast of South Africa measured 50.9 feet long. Most reach physical maturity at 47 feet in length. They have white ventral side and grayish dorsal side. Bryde’s whale reach sexual maturity between eight to thirteen years while measuring 39 feet. Females breed in one-year intervals and nurse young ones for up to twelve months.
10. Eden's whale
Scientifically called Balaenoptera or Sittang, Eden's whale is smaller than Bryde’s whale and mostly occurs in the Indo-Pacific waters. Adults measure 37-38 feet long while calves measure up to 22 feet long. This whale is an endangered species, a factor that contributes to the insufficiency of data to determine its population and characteristics. Scientists believe that they reach sexual maturity between the ages of eight to eleven while measuring up over 35 feet long.
9. Omura's whale
Omura’s whale is also called Balaenoptera omurai or dwarf fin whale. As the alternative names suggest, this whale physically resembles the fin whale. Some differences include Omura’s rounded tip and a single median ridge. They grow up to lengths of 37.7 feet. The Omura’s whale is rare and not much information is available on its mating and diet, however, studies conducted near Madagascar suggested that they have inverted suction feeding. These whales occur off the coasts of Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Brazil, Mauritania, Madagascar, Australia, China, and Taiwan among other places.
8. Sei whale
Scientifically called Balaenoptera borealis, this is the third longest baleen whale and occurs in most of the world oceans and their nearby seas. Sei whales usually prefer deep waters and avoid semi-enclosed water bodies. They normally migrate to temperate waters during winters and subpolar waters during summer. They grow up to 64 feet long and weigh up to 31 tons. These whales swim alone or in pods of no more than six, however, the pod may be larger where food is in plenty, which is normally near the surface. They mate during winters in temperate subtropical waters and they gestate for 10-12 months after which weaning takes place for six to nine months. Females give birth at intervals of two to three years.
7. Blue whale
Scientifically called Balaenoptera musculus grows up to 98 feet and weighs as high as 190 short tons. This whale is the largest mammal known to man. The whale normally is bluish-gray in color with a white underside. These whales occur in all oceans of the earth. There are three subspecies of this whale namely B. m. Brevicauda (pygmy blue whale), B. m. Musculus, and B. m. Indica. Krill is the whale's primary diet. Blue whale has a long narrow body with a flat u-shaped head and a small dorsal fin. The normal traveling speed for the blue whale is 12 mph, although they can swim up to 31 mph for short bursts. Blue whales mate from late autumn till the end of winter. The gestation period of this whale is ten to twelve months. Sexual maturity ranges from five to ten years after birth and females normally give birth at intervals of two or three years.
6. Common minke whale
The other name for this whale is northern minke whale, scientifically, Balaenoptera acutorostrata. They are the second smallest baleen whales and found in dwarf form. The longest confirmed species ever caught range from 30.8 to 33 feet. Most reach sexual maturity while measuring 20.2-22.1 feet and 19.8-23.5 feet for males and females respectively. They inhabit most parts of the North Atlantic including Baffin Bay, Franz Josef Land, Novaya Zemlya, and Svalbard. They are also occasionally spotted along the coast New Jersey, North Sea, Hudson Bay, Madeira, Canary Islands, and off Spain and Senegal coasts. Their dwarf forms inhabit the southern hemisphere especially South America, Oceania, and Southern Africa. They reach sexual maturity from the age of six to eight years. Females are promiscuous and have a gestation period of ten months. Calves wean for six months on average, with most of them reaching physical maturity at 13 years old. These whales have average lifespans of up to 50 years.
5. Southern minke whale
Also called the Antarctic minke whale or Balaenoptera bonaerensis, this whale is the third smallest baleen whale and has one of the largest whale populations globally. The longest ever found was 39 feet long whereas the heaviest ever found was 11.5 short tons. They have an upright dorsal fin, clean white ventral side, and dark gray on the dorsal side. These whales move in small groups of two or three and sometimes in singles, however, although rare, they may move in groups of up to sixty. Sometimes, they segregate by age, sex, and reproductive conditions. The Balaenoptera bonaerensis produce different noises including bioduck, grunts, screeches, clicks, and whistles. They occur in most parts of the southern hemisphere especially off the coasts of several South American and African countries as well as Oceania.
4. North Atlantic right whale
The scientific name of the North Atlantic right whale (black right whale) is Eubalaena glacialis which loosely translate to “true whale of the ice.” This whale has callosities on the head, lack dorsal fin, and have arch-shaped mouth. Averagely, adults measure 43-52 feet and weight up to 77 tons. These whales are mainly docile and have high blubber matter making up 40% of their bodies, the blubber contributes to their floating once killed. They inhabit the western and eastern North Atlantic. During winter, they migrate to near the coasts of Florida and Georgia. These whales have more than one mating partners. Females normally give birth from as early as nine years and have gestation periods of one year.
3. Southern right whale
The southern right whale, (Eubalaena australis) occurs in the Southern Hemisphere. They spend most summers in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica and migrate northwards during winter where they also breed. These places include the coasts of Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, Southern Africa, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, parts of East Africa among other places. Physically, they have either black or dark gray skins with belly patches. They also lack dorsal fins, have callosities, a long arch-like mouth, and have a broad back. Adults can grow up to 59 feet long and weigh 99 tons. The southern right whales have strong maternal connections, especially with gene pools and locations where they were born. Females occasionally nurse unrelated orphans.
2. North Pacific right whale
Eubalaena japonica is the scientific name of the North Pacific right whale which is rare and endangered. Physically, these whales are large and the thickest of the baleen whales. They are capable of growths of 49-60 feet and weights of 110,000-200,000 pounds. E. japonica lacks the dorsal fin and they have arched jawline, black backs, cyamid on the head and lips, and a V-shaped spout. There are unconfirmed sightings of larger and heavier E. japonica than the recorded measurements. Just like most whales, E. japonica feeds on copepods. These whales inhabit the Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska, and the Sea of Okhotsk.
1. Bowhead whale
Scientifically called Balaena mysticetus, the bowhead whale is dark-colored, does not have the dorsal fin, and has the largest mouth of any animal on the planet. Adults can weigh 83-110 short tons and measure 46-59 feet. They love the arctic and sub-arctic waters, thus their alternative names like Arctic whale, Polar whale, Greenland whale, or Russian whale.
About the Author
Mark is a student at Maseno University and community commentator in Kenya. Mark also has interests in geography, African history, and international development.
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