Humpback Whale

All About Whales

Written By: Frank Bongiorno

Nothing demonstrates the wonder and scale of the planet's oceans like a whale. Too large to ever survive on land, most species nearly disappeared from the oceans as well after aggressive whaling in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, they enjoy more protections and draw human attention for better reasons, like whale-watching, but scientists still know much less than they'd like to about many species that spend their life in deep water, going places where humans cannot follow. It's no wonder they're such a favorite of ocean adventurers and sailors.

Blue Whale

Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whales are most notable for their size. The largest animals to ever live on Earth, they weigh up to 200 tons and grow up to 100 feet long. An individual whale can live 90 years. They spend their lives eating krill along the coast of Chile and southern California. They also appear in the Coral Triangle of the Pacific Ocean. Although their population is slowly increasing, they are endangered animals.

Southern Right Whale

Balaena glacialis

Highly migratory, southern right whales can be found in most waters of the southern half of the southern hemisphere. They move through arctic waters as well as the warmer ocean around South Africa, South America, Australia, and New Zealand. They grow up to 70 feet long, weigh up to 100 tons, and live up to 50 years. Although they were hunted to the brink of extinction, they are now classified as endangered. Right whales received their name from whalers, who believed they were the right whale to hunt due to their slow speeds and buoyancy after death.

North Atlantic Right Whale

Eubalaena glacialis

A North Atlantic right whale grows up to 55 feet long and can weigh up to 70 tons. Researchers believe they can live for at least 70 years, but they are endangered, with only 300 to 400 left alive, and their population may be dwindling. As their name suggests, they move through the northern Atlantic Ocean, visiting North America's eastern coast, Iceland, and Europe's northern countries. Like other right whales, they eat krill and zooplankton.

North Pacific Right Whale

Eubalaena japonica

Another endangered species, North Pacific right whales live off the coast of Alaska, in the Bering Sea, and in other northern parts of the Pacific during most of the year, though they go as far south as Baja California during migration. They live about 50 years and grow to 55 feet, and they weigh in around 70 tons when fully grown.

Sei Whale

Balaenoptera borealis

Pronounced "say," the sei whale is in the same family as the blue whale, and it grows up to 60 feet long. Over its 70-year lifespan, it can reach nearly 25 tons. Like the blue whale, it dines on zooplankton like krill and keeps to deeper waters, though it is found in most oceans and seas. Unfortunately, due to whaling, it is also endangered.

Humpback Whale

Megaptera novaeangliae

Recognized for their long, graceful flippers, their breaching frequency, and their soothing songs, humpback whales are 500-foot, 40-ton behemoths. Over their 50-year lifespans, they migrate through all major oceans, though whales traveling from Alaska to Hawaii may be the most recognized. Although they are endangered, they are considered a "least concern" species, and their population is on the rise. Like all other baleen whales, they eat krill and zooplankton.

Antarctic Minke Whale

Balaenoptera bonaerensis

Weighing just less than 10 tons and measuring just less than 30 feet, these are some of the smallest baleen whales. Their size may help them survive in their Antarctic habitat, where they hunt krill; because they are smaller animals, they can survive on less food. They do wander as far north as Peru, during the winter, however, and they've been seen in all major oceans. While scientists that know Antarctic minke whales can live past 70 years, they do not have enough data to determine whether or not they are endangered.

Fin Whale

Balaenoptera physalus

The second-largest baleen whale after the blue whale, the fin whale weighs up to 70 tons and measures up to 85 feet. Their pronounced dorsal fin, which is one of the largest of any baleen whale, earned them their name. Over their 90 years of life, they explore every major ocean, going from artic zones to subtropical waters. They dine on krill and other small schooling fish. Despite a slight rise in population after heavy damage from whalers, they are considered endangered.

Sperm Whale

Physeter macrocephalus

The only toothed whales on this list, sperm whales grow to 45 tons and 52 feet. Deep ocean dwellers, they eat giant squid in addition to sharks, rays, and fish. They enjoy a worldwide range and migrate to their preferred birthing areas seasonally. They've been recorded living past 60 years, and they are officially listed as an endangered species.

Bowhead Whale

Balaena mysticetus

These baleen whales live in artic and subarctic waters. Their massive heads earned them their name; they use their heads to break through ice. They grow up to 60 feet and weigh around 100 tons when fully grown, eating krill like other baleen cetaceans. What makes the bowhead whale so special is its lifespan. Researchers believe that bowhead whales can live 200 years or more. This estimate comes from study of the whales' eyes and archeological evidence from old human hunting implements (like stone spear tips) found buried in the flesh of whales living in modern times. They are another species in the "least concern" category.

Gray Whale

Eschrichtius robustus

Gray whales live in the waters off the western United States and Canada and the eastern shores of Russia, Korea, China, and Japan. They grow to approximately 46 feet and 40 tons. They draw lots of attention in their calving waters in the Gulf of California for their curious and gentle behavior toward human vessels, especially whale-watching expeditions. These baleen whales eat krill. Over 70 years, they migrate farther than nearly any other animal, and they have a long-standing place on the endangered species list.