the Legacy continues…………………….
Gregory R. Mann, Ph.D. {ret.}

World of Cetaceans

            Tail Fluke Features


Identifying Features

  • Northern & Southern Bottlenose Whales have massive foreheads.

  • Long-finned & Short-finned Pilot Whales are black and no beak is visible.

  • Knicks on dorsal fins can be used to identify a certain whales in a pod.

  • Northern & Southern Right Whales have encrustations on their heads and jaws called “callosities”.

  • Humpback Whales have distinctive markings used for individual identification on the underside of their tails.

  • Different spouting ways and diving sequences. (Estimated speed of air exhaled through spout = ± 480 kph.)

  • Streamlined, torpedo-shaped bodies propelled by vertical beat of horizontal tail flukes.

  • Most cetaceans have a prominent upper jaw in front of the eyes.

  • Baleen whales have a long upper jaw, narrow and arched or wide and flat with baleen plates for sieving food from the water, flatness of the head above eyes and double blowhole.

  • Toothed cetaceans have a narrow straight upper jaw, at least one pair of teeth in lower jaw, a ‘knob’ above the eyes and upper jaw and the single blowhole is high up on the forehead.

  • Baleen whales have wide separated lower jaws.

  • Toothed whales have very narrow lower jaw consisting of two jawbones fused together.

  • Cetacean eyes are small with no eyebrows or lashes.

  • Ears are normally difficult to spot as it is often hidden from view.

Body and Fins

  • Well developed forelimbs (flippers) are placed behind the head and below the midline.

  • Flippers vary in size and shape and are used for steering.

  • Prominent dorsal fins on the back or behind mid-length. (Absent in some species)

  • Body tapers into the tail section with flat sides and horizontal flukes.

  • 3 dorsal fin shapes are documented.

Largest Whale

The Blue Whale is the heaviest and longest animal on Earth. The average adult length is 25 meters (82 feet) in males and 26.2 meters (86 feet) in females with body weights of 90-120 tons.  Lengths of 100 feet have been recorded on many sightings.

Smallest Cetacean

The Vaquita Porpoise is the world’s smallest cetacean. They may be only 1.2 meters (3 feet 11 inches) long when fully grown. Although taking average lengths, the Yangtze River Finless Porpoise is probably the lightest weighing 30-45 kilograms (66-69 pounds); nearly 3,000 Yangtze River Finless Porpoises would weigh roughly the same as one Blue Whale.

Fastest Cetacean

Dall’s Porpoises have been clocked over 30 mph (55 kph), a speed that places as the sea’s fastest cetaceans.

Tallest Blow

A ‘blow’ or ‘spout’ is the cloud of water droplets produced above a cetacean’s head when it blows out, similar to a human exhaling their breath in cold temperatures. The tallest blow belongs to the Blue Whale where blows of up to 12 meters (39 feet 5 inches) have been reported.

Largest Appetite

A Blue Whale eats up to 4 tons of krill everyday. This is equivalent to eating a fully grown African Elephant every day.

Longest Dive

Field research has reported dive times of 137.5 minutes for the Cuvier’s Beaked Whale.

Deepest Dive

The Cuvier’s Beaked Whale dives deeper than any other animal on our planet. They have been known to dive over a mile with recorded dives as deep as 2,992 meters (6,560 feet or 1.24 miles) 

Longest Life

A Bowhead Whale was documented after a necropsy, to have been 130 years old when it died in 1992.

Heaviest Brain

The Sperm Whale has the world’s heaviest brain which can weigh up to 9.2 kilograms (20 pounds 5 ounces). This compares with the average 1.4 kilograms (3 pounds 1 ounch) for the brain of an adult human.

Tallest Dorsal Fin

The huge dorsal fin of a bull Killer Whale can reach a height of 1.8 meters (6 feet), roughly as tall as a man.

The Baiji or Chinese River Dolphin is the rarest dolphin in the world. It lives in the Yangtze River in China. There are thought to be perhaps less than 100 of these dolphins remaining and the planned damming of the river will probably mean that the dolphin will become extinct in the next few years.

The Vaquita Porpoise which lives in the Gulf of California, is the rarest cetacean. Just a few hundred animals are thought to still exist.

Humpback Whale males sing the longest and most complex songs in the animal kingdom. Each song lasts for half an hour or more and consists of several main components. The aim of the singing is probably to woo females and to frighten off rival males. The songs can be heard underwater hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

Gray Whales undertake the longest known migration of any mammal. Hugging the North American coastline, it swims from its winter breeding grounds in Baja California, Mexico to its summer feeding grounds in the rich waters of the Bering Sea in the Arctic and back again. This amounts to a total annual distance of 12,000-20,000 kilometers (7,452-12,420 miles).

In recent years, researchers have begun tracking the migration of Humpback Whales from Antarctic waters to the equator off Colombia and Costa Rica. One female whale was spotted off the Antarctic peninsula and then re-sighted five months later off Colombia. Even taking the shortest route, this would have been a journey of over 8,400 kilometers (5,000 miles).

Did You Know?

  • Killer Whales are in fact, the largest member of the dolphin family.

  • Whales and dolphins do not sleep like we do, but they rest on the surface of the sea or catnap for a few moments while they are swimming. Each side of the brain takes it in turns to ‘switch off’ while the other half stays vigilant and keeps the animal breathing (which is a voluntary action in cetaceans).

  • When whales and dolphins open their eyes underwater, special greasy tears protect them from the stinging salt.

  • The black and white markings on the underside of Humpback Whale tails are all unique. This enables researchers to tell the whales apart by taking pictures of the tail which is lifted clear of the water when the whale dives. Bottlenose Dolphins and Killer Whales can be individually identified from the different markings and nicks on their dorsal fins.

  • Cetaceans without teeth are filter feeders. They have what look like long, furry combs in their mouths. These are called “baleen plates” and hang from their upper jaws to form a special sieve. A baleen whale feeds by taking in large mouthfuls of water and then filtering out all the fish or krill (small shrimp-like organisms) ready to swallow. It may eat thousands or even hundreds of thousands of animals in a single gulp.

  • The Bowhead Whale has longer baleen than any other whale. At 4.5 meters (15 feet), it would be almost twice the height from ceiling to the floor in most modern houses.

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