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Interesting Facts About Finback Whales

Meghna Wani
Finback whales weigh about 7 to 8 times that of the largest and heaviest land animal-the African Elephant. This and other interesting facts about finback whales are revealed in this story.

Quick Fact!

In spite of their heavy weight, finback whales can cruise at a speed of 35 miles per hour, and hence, are dubbed 'the greyhound of the sea'.
Finback whales (Balaenoptera physalus) have become endangered species. You may wonder why all such fantastic species of the oceans are becoming endangered suddenly?
The answer is, previously, ships, vessels, and fishing aids were not so advanced; hence, the finback would deceitfully get away, owing to its speed. Also, to catch and ferry a thing as heavy as the finback whale, required some mean horsepower engines.
But with the introduction of new, modern, fast-paced, and high-tech engines and fishing aids, finback whales became easy prey. According to the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, Maine, almost 30,000 finbacks were killed every year from 1935 to 1965.
Commercial whaling was the reason for dwindling numbers of these giants. A few other reasons, like accidentally getting entangled in fishing gear caused massive fishing of other fish, collisions with big ships, and changes in the marine ecosystem due to global warming and oil leakages, leading to scarcity of food are reported to have reduced their numbers.
People trespassing their habitat for recreational whale watching also tends to disturb them. Although this does not cause mortality, it is still counted as one of the reasons that disrupts the marine balance.

Fin Whales: Some Interesting Facts

Scientific Classification

Kingdom:- Animalia
Phylum:- Chordata
Class:- Mammalia
Subclass:- Eutheria
Order:- Cetacea
Suborder:- Mysticeti
Family:- Balaenopteridae
Genus:- Balaenoptera

Types of Finback Whales

Northern Fin Whales (Balaenoptera physalus physalus), found in the Atlantic Ocean
Southern Fin Whales (Balaenoptera physalus quoyi), found in the Antarctic Ocean


They are the second-largest mammal and living animal in the world, the largest being the blue whale. They grow to a length of almost 88 feet (26 meters) and weigh around 75 tons.
The females are slightly larger and longer than the males. They have a slender and streamlined body, that helps them increase their swimming speed greatly. Their head is V-shaped and flat from above.
Finback whales are gray on the upper side and pale white on the underside. They also display asymmetry in color on the jaws. They are light in color on the right side, and dark and mottled on the left. On the rear end and the sides, the color of the skin is light gray to brownish black.
Two stripes, light in color, emerge from behind the blowholes and join at the upper side towards the tail, to form a V-shape. On the underside, they have around 50 to 100 pleats that run lengthwise, from the chin to the navel, to allow for expansion during feeding. It is for this characteristic that they are called 'rorquals'. On the top of the body, on the far back end, this whale has a prominent tall and hook-shaped dorsal fin that is around 2 feet tall.


All major oceans are their abode. Normally, they are found in offshore and deep waters, at least 25 miles from the shore, and 300 to 600 feet deep water. Finback whales are not so common in the tropical regions. They prefer temperate and cool waters, but keep themselves away from the ice-packed poles.

Migratory Behavior

These whales keep moving in and out of high-latitude and cold-current feeding areas according to the seasons. The North Atlantic fin whales migrate southward in autumn towards the West Indies for breeding, whereas, the Southern fin whales, in summer, migrate from the Antarctic feeding grounds to low latitude breeding areas.
This migratory pattern is recorded over time by combining the information gathered by some extensive ship surveys and acoustic readings from passive-listening hydrophones, but their overall migratory behavior is still not clear.


The breathing pattern of this whale varies with the kind of activity it is doing. While feeding, they will breathe 5 to 6 times quickly in one minute. On the other hand, when they are traveling or simply resting, they will only breathe 1 or 2 times in a minute. They rarely breach. One reason for such behavior is because they get scared very easily by moving vessels or ships, but keep moving around still ships.


Before a dive, they come to the surface and arch their back high out of the water, though the flukes are never visible out of the water. When they take a dive, they reach up to a depth of around 1,500 feet in a span of around 10 to 15 minutes, for feeding. When they want to rest or travel, they just dive a few hundred feet at a time.

Diet and Feeding

Finback whales feed through the baleen plates. There can be around 260 to 475 baleen plates in an adult whale, on each side of the mouth. The plates are seen to be around 30 inches in length, and up to 12 inches in width. At the end, these plates fray out into bristle-like hair.
When in the mood to eat, these whales move at a speed of around 10 miles per hour. While moving, they open their jaws, and in one gulp, engulf around 70 cubic meters of water. Then they close the mouth and push all the water out through the baleen plates. The baleen plates trap their prey inside, while allowing the water to leave.
With each gulp of water, the whale gets around 20 pounds of food. It needs around 4,000 pounds of food every day to meet its energy needs. It will dive to depths of around 600 to 700 feet in search of sufficiently dense patches of prey. If it doesn't find food, it can even spend around three hours searching for it. They mainly prey on euphausiids like squid, crustaceans, copepods, krill, and herring.
A unique technique of hunting is seen to be followed by this whale. If it spots a school of fish and is not able to feed on them, it will keep circling them with high speed with its white side facing the prey. Out of fear, the small fish form a tight ball, and as soon as they gather together, it turns to its side and engulfs the mass of prey.


The winter season is the mating season for these whales. They normally prefer temperate, low latitude areas for mating. The gestation period varies from eleven months to one year. A newborn whale will wean from the mother till 6 to 7 months of age. By this time, summer sets in, and the calf accompanies its mother to the feeding regions.
A female whale sexually matures between the age of 6 to 12 years, and then reproduces every 2 to 3 years. It is recorded that at a single time, a female can give birth to around 6 whales, but single births are more common. It is seen that the average lifespan of this whale is around 80 to 90 years.


Fin whales can only be attacked by killer whales, and that too when they are in groups. As I mentioned earlier, this whale gets scared easily, because of which it swims away to escape the area if attacked. It does not resist or fight its attackers. Very few such instances are recorded where people have witnessed an attack on a fin whale.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, this species is already under the risk of extinction, with only between 50,000 to 90,000 whales remaining, because of which the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has formed a body that regulates whaling. Iceland is the only country that still continues fin whale hunting.