Fin Whale

Fin Whale

Fin-backed whale, Finner, Common rorqual, Herring whale, Razorback, Finback, Finback whale

Balaenoptera physalus
Life Span
80-90 yrs
40 km/h
1.8-7 t
6.5-24 m

Fin whales are the fastest amongst the cetaceans and have been seen to breach completely out of the water. It is gray on the upper surface and white on the underside. Patterns on its jaw are asymmetrical: white on the right and dark on the left side, with large numbers of grooves extending along the throat to its naval. Its prominent dorsal fin has a strong curve. Males and females are very similar in appearance, with females slightly longer than males. Their baleen plates are gray to bluish in color, with white fringes. They have two blowholes, with a single, longitudinal ridge extending from the tip of their snout to where their blowholes begin.


This species is distributed throughout the globe, though it is rarely seen in tropical or icy polar seas. It is found in the Pacific, Indian, Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. It has two subspecies: the northern fin whale, which inhabits the North Atlantic; and the southern fin whale, which lives in the Southern Ocean. It is the only rorqual found commonly in the Mediterranean. They inhabit the polar and temperate zones of major and open seas as well as, less commonly, the tropical oceans. They more commonly live in shelf and coastal waters, never in water that is less than a depth of 200 meters.

Fin Whale habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Fin whales are one of the most sociable of whale species, often congregating in family groups of 6 to 10 members. Sometimes they gather in groups of almost 250 individuals during migration periods or near feeding grounds. This species is highly migratory: they usually live in colder feeding water during spring and early summer, and in autumn and winter they go back to warmer waters to breed. A fin whale is a filter feeder and hunts by swimming with its mouth open towards its prey, taking in large amounts of water as well as food. Fin whales communicate with loud low-pitched sounds. The purpose of these noises is unknown, but they may play a part in helping whales to locate each other or attract a mate.

Diet and Nutrition

Fin whales mainly eat plankton-sized animals including fish, crustaceans, and squid.

Mating Habits

November-January; June-September
11-11.5 mont
1 calf
6-8 months

Fin whales are regarded as monogamous, often being seen during the mating season in pairs. Mating takes place in the northern hemisphere between November and January, and the southern hemisphere between June to September. After an 11-11.5-month gestation period, one calf is born. A calf is precocial at birth, and is able to swim as soon as it is born. A mother nurses her baby for 6 to 8 months. The calf is about 14 meters long when it is weaned, whereupon it travels to a polar feeding area with its mother, and learns there to feed independently of its mother. Males are sexually mature at 6 - 10 years old. Females give birth to a calf every two years once they reach sexual maturity between 3 to 12 years old.


Population threats

Fin whales, like other large whales, are threatened by changes to the environment, including habitat loss, climate change and toxins. At present, fin whales are threatened by manmade injuries, the most serious being collisions with boats. They are also threatened by commercial whaling. The majority of whale meat is bought on the Japanese market.

Population number

There are very rough estimates for specific regions: North Atlantic - 53,000 whales; Mediterranean Sea - fewer than 10,000 whales; North Pacific – 17,000 whales; Southern Hemisphere - 38,185 whales. Currently the Fin whale is classified as Endangered (EN).

Ecological niche

Fin whales have a place at the top in the food chain and an important role as regards the marine environment's overall health, consuming vast amounts of plankton as well as other prey items.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Fin whales can expand their mouths and their throats while feeding due to the 100 or so pleats that go from the end of their bodies right to their mouths. The pleats enable the mouth cavity during feeding to engulf water, Fin whales being filter feeders, with 350 to 400 baleen plates that they use to catch very small up to medium-sized life that is suspended in the sea.
  • Fin whales can dive as deep as 230 meters and stay submerged for around 15 minutes. A fin whale's blow reaches six meters height and is shaped like a slim cone.
  • Fin whales like to leap completely above the surface of the water as they come up to breathe. Doing this enables them to dive approximately 800 feet back down into the water.
  • Since a calf is not able to suckle, the mother sprays her milk into the baby's mouth. Feeding occurs throughout the day at intervals of 8 to 10 minutes.
  • The Fin whale is the second largest animal in the world, the blue whale being the largest.
  • The shape of their backs and their small pointed dorsal fins have given these whales another name, which is razorback.


1. Fin Whale Wikipedia article -
2. Fin Whale on The IUCN Red List site -

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