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Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus


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A fin whale surfaces in the Kenai Fjords, Alaska
credit: Lori Mazzuca/CCSA

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Alternate name: Finback Whale

Family: Balaenopteridae, Rorquals view all from this family

Description The world’s second largest animal is a large whale with smooth gray skin and a V-shaped head. Undersides of belly, flippers, and fluke are white. Rarely shows fluke. Shape of pointed dorsal fin is variable. Top of tail stock is ridged. Asymmetric lower jaw and baleen are dark on left and white on right. This head color, and the unique chevron pattern behind the head allow individual identification. Blow is high and cone-shaped.

Dimensions 17.7-22m; / 18.3-24m, 45,000-70,000kg

Endangered Status The Fin Whale is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as endangered throughout its range in the U.S. (Alaska, Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia). Fin Whales are speedy and they sink when they are dead; these attributes made them difficult to capture and so they were not targeted by early whalers. More modern hunting techniques, and the demise of many of the other great whales, especially the Blue Whale, changed that. After decades of exploitation, Fin Whales came under the protection of U.S. and international agencies, and it is likely that this species will survive. Certain native peoples are allowed a limited take of Fin Whales.

Habitat Offshore waters

Range New England, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Florida, Texas, California, Northwest, Eastern Canada, Western Canada, Alaska

Discussion Migrate from summer feeding grounds in cold, productive waters at high latitudes to warmer wintering grounds in tropical and subtropical areas, where they mate and calve. One of the fastest swimming whales, it can reach speeds of 25 knots. Tagged individuals have travelled 1700km in 9 days. A rare and Endangered species now, it was probably one of the most abundant large whales before commercial whaling. Typically swims in deeper waters along both coasts.