Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 13:20 EDT

Fin Whale

The Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus), also called the Finback Whale and belongs to the baleen whales suborder. It is the second largest whale and also the second largest animal currently living. The Fin whale can grow to 85 ft (26 m) long. The fin Whale can be found worldwide and in Europe is readily seen in the Bay of Biscay.


The Fin Whale is a close relative of the Blue Whale. The differences began to occur between 3 and 5 million years ago. Hybrids between the two species are quite common – for every 1000 Fin Whales there is a hybrid Blue-Fin Whale.

Population groups have split into north-south groups. On account of their migatory patterns, the northern and southern groups do not meet and therefore do not interbreed.

Physical description and behavior

Fin Whales are enormous animals. The longest specimens – typically females found in Southern Hemisphere populations can be up to 85 ft (26 m) in length and weigh 120 tons (120,000 kg). Males are typically a meter shorter. Northern specimens are between 69 ft (21 m) and 75 ft (23 m) long. Even at birth Fin Whales weigh in excess of 3 tons (3,000 kg. They reach their full size at about 10 years old and can live for over 80 years. The Fin Whale has a large white patch on its right jaw (and right jaw only, the left jaw is grey) and the baleen at the tip of the right jaw is also white.

This rorqual is a filter-feeder, using its baleen to strain small schooling fish, squid and crustaceans. An adult has between 260 and 480 baleen plates on each side of the mouth for filtering.

It is a long slim whale with a prominent dorsal fin about three-quarters of the way along the back. The fin is visible soon after the blow when the whale surfaces. The whale will blow one to several times on each visit to the surface, staying close to the surface for about one and a half minutes each time. The tail remains submerged during the dive sequence. It can dive to depths of 850 ft (250m) and dives last between 10 and 15 minutes.

The Fin Whale is the fastest swimmer amongst whales of its size. Speeds of 20mph are common, and bursts in excess of 25mph have been recorded, which labeled it with the nickname “greyhound of the sea

Population and distribution

Like many of the large rorquals, the Fin Whale is a can be found anywhere around the world. It is found in all the world’s major oceans, and in waters ranging from the polar to the tropical. It is less densely populated in the hottest, equatorial regions. Deep waters beyond the continental shelf are preferred to shallow waters.

The total population is estimated to be just in excess of 100,000. The largest populations include 24,000 in the Southern Ocean and 14,000 in the North Atlantic between Iceland and Greenland.

Fin Whales are migratory species. A north-south pattern has been proposed for populations in both the northern and southern hemispheres. For southern populations this pattern is believed to be well understood. Animals travel south for the summer and back north for the winter. The northern migration is less well-understood and is probably more patchy. Fin Whales prefer to stick to deeper colder waters, further from the shore and thus less easily detected by humans wanting to measure their movement.

Fin Whale