The Fin Whale

Fin whales, or finback whales, are the second largest species, second only to the biggest whale, the Blue whale. The whale has also been referred to as the herring whale or razorback whale. This species can be found almost any ocean on Earth except the most northern parts of our world. It is not scientifically-agreed upon how many Fin whales are living near Antarctica in the Southern Ocean, but last population estimates were approximately 38,000 (1997).

Fin Whale Facts:

  • Fin whales are the second-largest animal on the planet, second only to the Antarctic Blue Whale
  • These whales have five names!  They are also called Finback Whales or the Common Rorqual.  They used to be known as Herring Whales or Razorback Whales. 
  • They are the fastest of all whales. 
  • Their flippers are tapered and small as compared to other whales. 
  • Just like Blue Whales, Fin Whale females are typically 5-10% larger than males. 
  • Occasionally these whales have shown complex hunting tactics.  They can work together by swimming in tight circles around prey.  This forces the prey into a smaller, denser mass so that the they can get more food per mouthful. 
  • They do not often breach out of the water, making them rare to spot for people.  If you see a Fin Whale, it is indeed a rare treat! 
  • Orca (Killer Whales) prey on young and old Fin Whales. 
  • They have colored brownish-grey with more of a whitish underbelly. 
  • There are two subspecies – Northern and Southern – with a possible third subspecies existing in North Pacific.  These three subspecies rarely mix. 
  • The Southern subspecies is the longest and largest of these three subspecies. 
  • These whales are found in all oceans. 
  • Sometimes they are solitary but often travel in pods of 8 up to 100 when food is abundant. 
  • Males can mate once they are 6-10 years old.  Females sexually mature later at 7-12 years. 
  • They do not reach physical maturity (full size) until around 30 years old. 
  • They can live 90 years or longer. 
  • DNA testing has confirmed the existence of hybrid Blue/Fin Whales.  There is no name/classification for these hybrid whales that belong to neither species. 
  • A common cause of death results after one of these whales collides with a large boat. 
  • They can hold their breath for 15 minutes. 

What is the habitat of Fin Whales? 

Fin Whales are only absent from the poles themselves and a few small areas such as the Red Sea.  They live in polar, temperate, and tropical waters and they do migrate.  Highest population densities occur in cold and temperate waters like the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica.  Surprisingly little is yet known or understood regarding the migratory patterns of each of the 2-3 subspecies of Fin Whale. 

Finback Whales enjoy colder waters because of the abundance of food found in cold mineral-rich waters. 

How long are Fin Whales? 

Up to 85 feet in length (25.9 meters) for the Southern Fin Whale. For the other Finback Whale subspecies, the longest found has been an 82 foot (25 meters) female that was caught off the coast of Scotland in the early 20th Century. A newborn Fin Whale measures 19.7-21.3 feet in length (6-6.5 meters). 

How big are Fin Whales? How much do they weigh? 

Antarctic Fin Whales (Southern Fin Whales) are the heaviest recorded specimens. It’s estimated that the longest Fin Whales would be around 84 tons (76 tonnes) up to 125.5 tons (114 tonnes). A newborn Fin Whale weighs around 4,000 lbs (1800 kg). 

An adult Fin Whale (75 tons) weighs the same as 10 large elephants weighing 15,000 lbs. each. The largest Fins might weigh as much as nearly 17 large elephants! 

Are Fin Whales endangered? 

Yes, they are endangered. Fins, like most other whales, were hunted for oil, meat, and baleen. Certain Northern Pacific populations – especially in East Asia – are critically endangered and possibly extinct. However, populations near Canada and the United States are showing growth again since whaling ended in 1979. Nonetheless, all subspecies of Fin Whale are considered endangered and the population sizes are much smaller than they were before commercial whaling by humans began. 

How many Fin Whales are left? 

Antarctic Southern Fin Whales had an estimated population of 400,000 prior to whaling. When whaling stopped in 1979, the population was estimated to stand at around 85,200. However, the methods used for this estimate were flawed. Currently, it’s believed that there are only between 15,000 and 40,000 remaining. 

Worldwide the population of all Fins is estimated to range from less than 100,000 up to 119,000. 

How fast is the Fin Whale? 

Fin Whales have been called “the greyhound of the sea” for their speed. They are the fastest whales on earth traveling at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour. 

What do Fin Whales eat? 

They eat crustaceans – mostly krill, squid, and other small fish. Just like other non-toothed whales, Fins have baleen. Baleen is like a comb, filtering out the swallowed water, yet these bristles trap prey inside. 

How much does a Fin Whale eat? 

Finbacks spend around three hours eating per day if there is an abundance. Each mouthful can contain around 22 lbs (10 kg) of food and they will consume up to 3,960 lbs (1,800 kg) in one day. 

Are Fin Whales still hunted today? 

Some countries are still setting quotas allowing a certain number of Fin Whales to be hunted per year. Iceland and Norway seem to be encouraging this practice to continue. Many of the hunted whale products are being sent to Japan for sushi, dog food, and other products.  

For example, Iceland has a 2018 quota allowance of 209 Fin Whales – the highest level in a decade – that it is allowing commercial hunting for. The quotas were not approved by the International Whaling Commission. Iceland is facing growing pressure from the United States and others to stop the practice of killing endangered whales like the Fin and Minke. 

Where would an Antarctic cruise be most likely to see a Fin Whale? 

Cruise ships traveling to and from the Antarctic Peninsula are most likely to see Fin Whales in the Drake Passage.  Nonetheless, Finback Whales might be observed in oceanic water traveled on an Antarctic cruise.

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