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Everything You Need to Know About Fin Whales

a whale in a large body of water

Quick Facts about Fin Whales

  • Nickname: Fin Whales are often called the “greyhounds of the sea” due to their sleek and streamlined body shape, allowing them to swim swiftly through the water.
  • Unique Features: They have asymmetrical coloring on their lower jaw, with the right side white and the left side dark. This characteristic is helpful for individual identification.
  • Heart Size: The heart of a Fin Whale can weigh around 400 pounds (180 kilograms) and is roughly the size of a small car!
  • Underwater Acrobatics: Fin Whales are known for their impressive lunging behavior when feeding. They lunge toward their prey with their mouths open, engulfing large volumes of water and food.
  • Vocalizations: Their vocalizations include a wide range of sounds, from high-frequency clicks used for echolocation to low-frequency songs and calls used for communication.
  • Social Behavior: Fin Whales are usually solitary animals but sometimes travel in small groups or pairs.
  • Fast Swimmers: Despite their enormous size, Fin Whales are skilled swimmers and can reach speeds of up to 23 miles per hour (37 kilometers per hour) in short bursts.
  • Ancient Creatures: Fin Whales have been around for millions of years, with fossil evidence indicating their presence as far back as 20 million years ago.
  • Deep Divers: These whales can dive to depths of up to 2,000 feet (600 meters) for food.
  • Lengthy Lifespan: Fin Whales can live up to 80 to 90 years, similar to other large baleen whales.

Are Fin whales endangered?

Fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) are listed as “Endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

The primary threat to fin whales is historical and continued whaling, which significantly reduced their population in the past. Despite the global moratorium on commercial whaling implemented by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1986, some countries have continued to hunt fin whales under certain exemptions.

Additionally, fin whales face other human-induced threats, such as ship strikes, entanglement in fishing gear, marine pollution, and habitat degradation. These threats further contribute to the challenges in recovering and conserving fin whale populations.

Conservation efforts are critical to protecting fin whales and ensuring their long-term survival. Monitoring and managing their populations, addressing human-induced threats, and enforcing international protection measures are essential to safeguard these magnificent marine mammals.

What do fin whales eat?

Fin whales are filter-feeding baleen whales, and their diet primarily consists of small, schooling fish and various species of krill. Their feeding habits are similar to other baleen whales, where they use their baleen plates to filter prey from the water.

Some of the main prey items in the diet of fin whales include:

  • Krill: Fin whales consume large quantities of krill- small shrimp-like crustaceans found in cold, nutrient-rich waters. They use their baleen plates to filter krill from the water as they swim through dense krill swarms.
  • Fish: Fin whales also feed on various species of schooling fish, such as herring, mackerel, capelin, and sand lance. They use their giant mouths and baleen plates to capture and filter the fish from the water.

Fin whales are efficient predators, capable of engulfing large volumes of water containing their prey during each feeding lunge. They then push the water out through their baleen plates, which trap the krill and fish. This specialized feeding adaptation enables fin whales to consume vast food efficiently, supporting their massive size and energy demands.

How many fin whales are in the world?

Estimating the global population of fin whales is challenging due to their widespread distribution and the difficulty in surveying these migratory animals accurately. However, the worldwide population of fin whales is estimated to be a mere tens of thousands.

Fin whales are found in various oceans around the world, including the North Atlantic, North Pacific, Southern Ocean, and some areas of the Indian Ocean. Different populations of fin whales have unique migration patterns and breeding grounds, which makes assessing their total numbers a complex task.

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How large is a fin whale?

Fin whales are the second-largest animals on Earth, surpassed only by the blue whale. They are enormous marine mammals known for their impressive size. Here are some key measurements of a fin whale:

  • Length: Adult fin whales can reach approximately 60 to 80 feet (18 to 24 meters). In exceptional cases, some individuals may grow even longer, reaching up to 85 feet (26 meters).
  • Weight: Fin whales are massive animals, with adults weighing around 50 to 80 tons (100,000 to 160,000 pounds or 45,000 to 72,000 kilograms).
  • Body Shape: Fin whales have a streamlined and elongated body shape, which allows them to be swift swimmers and efficient hunters.
  • Coloration: The body of a fin whale is generally dark gray or brownish on the upper side and lighter on the underside, often with a white or creamy color.
  • Baleen Plates: Like other baleen whales, fin whales have baleen plates in their upper jaws, which they use to filter-feed on small prey, such as krill and fish.

The sheer size of fin whales is awe-inspiring, and their massive size allows them to consume large quantities of prey, supporting their energetic demands and enabling them to undertake long migrations across vast oceanic expanses. Despite their impressive size, fin whales are known for their agility and grace in the water, making them remarkable and captivating marine creatures.

Where can I see a fin whale? Where do they live?

Fin whales have a wide global distribution and are found in various oceans around the world. They prefer deep offshore waters, but they can also be observed in some coastal areas during certain times of the year. Here are some regions where you may have a chance to see fin whales:

  • North Atlantic: Fin whales can be found in the North Atlantic Ocean, particularly in areas such as Iceland, Norway, the United Kingdom, the eastern coast of the United States (New England region), and the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada.
  • North Pacific: In the North Pacific, fin whales can be seen off the western coast of North America, including the waters of California, Oregon, and Washington states, as well as in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. They can often be spotted right here in Dana Point throughout their feeding season in the spring and summer months.
  • Southern Hemisphere: Fin whales are also found in the Southern Hemisphere. You can spot them in regions such as the waters around Antarctica, the Southern Ocean, and areas near the sub-Antarctic islands.
  • Mediterranean Sea: Fin whales are occasionally seen in the Mediterranean Sea, particularly in areas with deep waters.
  • Offshore Waters: Fin whales prefer deep offshore waters and are often observed far from the coast. Whale-watching tours and expeditions that venture into these offshore waters offer the best chances of encountering these magnificent creatures.

Do fin whales have teeth?

No, fin whales do not have teeth. They are baleen whales, a group of large marine mammals that use baleen plates instead of teeth for feeding.

Baleen plates are comb-like structures made of keratin, the same material found in human fingernails and hair. These plates hang down from the upper jaws of baleen whales, including fin whales. Baleen is used to filter-feed on small prey, such as krill and small fish, from large mouthfuls of water.

When fin whales feed, they open their mouths wide and take in large volumes of water containing their prey. Then, they use their massive tongues to push the water out through the baleen plates, which act as a filter, trapping the krill and fish. The fin whale then swallows the prey, leaving the water to be expelled from its mouth.

This specialized feeding adaptation allows fin whales to consume enormous amounts of food efficiently, supporting their massive size and energetic demands.

How long do fin whales live?

The lifespan of fin whales can vary, but it is generally estimated to be around 70 to 90 years. However, there are limited data on the exact lifespan of fin whales in the wild, as they are challenging to study due to their wide-ranging and migratory behavior.

As with most marine mammals, the lifespan of fin whales can be influenced by various factors, including environmental conditions, food availability, and human-induced threats. For instance, accidental entanglement in fishing gear or collisions with ships can pose significant risks to their survival.

Given their endangered status and conservation concerns, efforts are being made to better understand the population dynamics and factors influencing the longevity of fin whales. Studying populations’ age structure and mortality rates can provide valuable insights into their life history and contribute to conservation strategies to protect these majestic marine creatures.

Are fin whales friendly? 

Fin whales are wild animals, and their behavior towards humans can vary depending on the circumstances and individual whales. As with all large marine mammals, it’s essential to remember that they are powerful and unpredictable creatures and interactions with them in the wild should be approached with caution and respect.

While fin whales are not known for being as curious or interactive with boats as some other species, such as humpback whales, there have been instances of fin whales approaching vessels out of curiosity. Some individuals may display behaviors like swimming alongside boats or surfacing near them. However, these interactions are generally brief and may not be as “friendly” as we might perceive interactions with more social and playful species.

It’s crucial to remember that marine mammals, including fin whales, are protected by various laws and regulations in many countries. Approaching them too closely or engaging in activities that disrupt their natural behaviors can harm the animals and is illegal in many places. Be sure to maintain a respectful distance and minimize disturbances to allow these magnificent animals to behave naturally. 

Where do fin whales migrate?

Fin whales are highly migratory marine mammals undertaking long-distance journeys between their feeding and breeding grounds. Their migration patterns vary depending on the region and the specific population of fin whales. Here are some common migration routes and areas where fin whales are known to migrate:

  • North Atlantic: In the North Atlantic, fin whales undertake seasonal migrations between their summer feeding grounds in high-latitude, cold waters and their winter breeding and calving grounds in more temperate or tropical waters. For example, some populations in the North Atlantic may travel from their feeding areas in places like Iceland, Greenland, and the Gulf of Maine to their breeding grounds in the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, or the Mediterranean Sea.
  • North Pacific: In the North Pacific, fin whales migrate between their summer feeding areas in cold waters of the northern Pacific Ocean, including regions like the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska, and their winter breeding and calving areas in more temperate or tropical waters. 
  • Southern Hemisphere: In the Southern Hemisphere, fin whales undertake migrations between Antarctic and sub-Antarctic waters during the feeding season and warmer waters in the Southern Ocean during the breeding and calving season.

Fin whale migration routes can be extensive, covering thousands of miles each way. They undertake these journeys to take advantage of seasonal food availability changes and engage in breeding and reproductive activities.

It’s important to note that the exact migration patterns of fin whales can vary among different populations, and ongoing research and monitoring are conducted to understand their migration behavior and ecology better.

What does a fin whale look like?

Fin whales have several distinguishing physical characteristics that make them easily recognizable among other whale species. Here’s what a fin whale looks like:

  • Size: Fin whales are one of the largest animals on Earth, second only to the blue whale. Adult fin whales can reach lengths of about 60 to 80 feet (18 to 24 meters) and weigh approximately 50 to 80 tons (100,000 to 160,000 pounds or 45,000 to 72,000 kilograms).
  • Coloration: The fin whale’s body is generally dark gray or brownish on the upper side, with a lighter underside that can be white or creamy. They have a sleek, streamlined appearance.
  • Body Shape: Fin whales have an elongated and slender body, which allows them to be swift and agile swimmers. Their dorsal fin is small and located far back on their body.
  • Lower Right Jaw: One unique characteristic of fin whales is the asymmetrical coloration pattern on their lower right jaw. The right side of their lower jaw is often white or light-colored, while the left is dark.
  • Throat Grooves: Fin whales have prominent ventral pleats or throat grooves that extend from their chin to their belly. These grooves allow their throat to expand significantly during feeding, accommodating large amounts of water and prey.
  • V-shaped Blow: Fin whales produce a tall, V-shaped blow when surfacing to breathe. The blow is created by the exhalation of warm air from their lungs as they reach the water’s surface.

Overall, fin whales’ size, coloration, and unique lower jaw pattern make them easily distinguishable in the wild. While they are not as acrobatic as some other whale species, their massive size and grace in the water make them captivating creatures to observe.

How long can a fin whale hold its breath?

Fin Whales are among the deepest diving mammals and can hold their breath for impressive lengths of time. During a typical dive, a Fin Whale can hold its breath for around 10 to 20 minutes.

During a dive, Fin Whales can reach depths of up to 2,000 feet (600 meters) or more in search of their prey, primarily consisting of small schooling fish, krill, and other planktonic organisms. Such prolonged and deep dives are possible due to their efficient oxygen storage and distribution mechanisms and ability to reduce both their heart and metabolic rates while submerged temporarily.