All About Whales
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 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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
- Why Are Blue Whales So Gigantic? They're the largest animals to ever exist on Earth, but how did they reach such massive sizes?
- The Blue Whale: Learn more about this enormous ocean-dweller, including the greatest threats to its survival.
- What We Do and Don't Know About Blue Whales: These big mammals come with big mysteries. Find out what scientists are still trying to discover.
- What Preys on Humpback Whales? Size doesn't automatically move an animal to the top of the food chain.
- Why Do Humpback Whales Breach? Seeing something so big come lunging out of the water is as frightening as it is majestic, but humpback whales don't do it for the tourists.
- Bowhead Whales: Although not as well-known as their graceful humpback cousins and not as big as blue whales, these sturdy denizens of northern seas have some mysteries of their own.
- Whales of the Arctic and Antarctic: Some of the biggest animals on the planet seem to enjoy the coldest parts of the world. Discover how they survive under the ice and what draws them to such chilly waters.
- Lumpy, Bumpy Whales: What are those white lumps on southern right whales, humpbacks, and other species?
- Sei Whales: Shy and elusive, this whale species has been one of the most difficult for scientists to study.
- Fin Whales: Big and sleek, fin whales are some of the most endangered cetaceans in the world.
- Seven Haunting Songs Sung by Whales: So relaxing that some people go to sleep listening to them, whale songs are a little-understood and beautiful part of whale life everyone can experience with this collection of recordings of different species.
- How Did the Sperm Whale Get its Name? While there are many mysteries about this massive, toothed whale, its name stems from the whaling industry.
- Was There a Real Moby Dick? Although the white whale is a piece of fiction, the animals that inspired it were real.
- On-Animal Cameras Reveal Hidden Whale World: It's hard to understand animals that spend so long so far out of sight. Fortunately, modern technology is providing solutions to that problem.
- Epic Encounter: Giant Squid and Sperm Whale: Sperm whales don't eat the same microscopic animals their cousins do. Instead, they go after big game deep in the ocean.
- Species Identification: Learn how to determine what kind of whale you're watching based on the features and behaviors displayed at the surface.
- 13 Whales You Can See in the Pacific Northwest: Planning on traveling to the West Coast? There are a lot of whales waiting.
- Whales of the Bahamas: Humans aren't the only creatures that enjoy a tropical paradise.
- Whale-Watching in Hawaii: Every year, the whales return, adding some excitement to the islands' calm shores.
- The World's 12 Best Locations for Whale-Watching: If you want to see a whale in person, it's important to be in the right place at the right time.
- Whale-Watching Rules and Etiquette: For everyone's safety, it's important to know the rules of whale-watching before heading to the water.
- Whales, Family Structure, and Calves: How do baby whales fit into whale communities? What is it like to grow up as a whale? Learn more here.
- Life in the Pod: The Social Life of Whales: Whales are surprisingly social, and family is everything for a pod.
- Whale Species That Migrate: Many species cover huge distances every year in regular migratory patterns. This article reveals the routes they take.