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Everything You Need To Know About Fin Whales: Habitat, Appetite, Vocalizations

a whale jumping out of a body of water

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society calls fin whales the “greyhound of the sea.” These massive creatures, the second largest whale after the blue whale, are also called finners, finbacks, razorbacks, and herring whales. They’re beautiful animals with long, slender bodies that can grow up to 80 feet long. Fin whales are fast. They’re big, and they have a few unique features.

What Makes a Fin Whale Special?

From far away, the fin whale may not appear anything more than dark gray with a V-shaped head. As you get closer, you can see the distinctive coloration that makes these whales unique. Their head coloring is asymmetrical, which is rarely seen in other animals. The left side of the lower jaw is dark, while the right side is white. Some scientists speculate that this coloration has to do with hunting strategies, but no one knows.

Where Can You Spot Them?

Fin whales can be found in most of the world’s oceans, where the water is temperate and deep. The fin whale habitat has been challenging to track because of its speed and tendency to travel in the open sea, away from the coast. San Diego tends to have a resident population, but the numbers do change seasonally. It’s believed that fin whales move to the Arctic north during the summer to feeding areas, while they move to warmer waters during the winter when calving.

an animal swimming in the water

What Do They Prey On?

Despite the fin whale size, they are not dangerous predators. They eat krill, small schooling fish that could include herring or sand lance. Fin whales also like squid. They can eat up to two tons of food each day during the summer, but it’s thought they fast during the winter when living in warmer waters. They take food and water through their mouth, then filter the water through plates in their throats.

How Long Do Fin Whales Live?

A fin whale doesn’t mature until they’re about 25 years old, but they can live up to 90 years in the wild. Fin whales are solitary creatures, rarely showing off and raising their fluke out of the water. They may be found in pairs or with other species of whales. They have even been found to breed with blue whales, creating hybrid whales, which are rare in the animal world. Fin whales are threatened in the world by whalers, which significantly shortens their lifespan.

a whale jumping out of the water

Complex Vocalizations

Scientists believe the male fin whale produces sounds related to the reproduction season. Songs can last up to 32.5 hours, with changing pulses throughout the session. Different populations of fin whales produce different sounds. Many of the songs are thought to be regional. The sounds also change seasonally. More research is needed to understand the difference in sounds and songs from different whales.

Fin Whales vs. Blue Whales

Comparing the fin whale vs. blue whale is easier when you understand their differences. Blue whales can get up to 98 feet long, which is 20 feet longer than a fin whale, but they also weigh more than two times the size of a fin whale. Blue whales are blue-gray, while fin whales appear darker gray. Although it’s estimated that fin whales have a population of over 100,000 in the wild, blue whales only have about 15,000. Typically, we see fin whales in early spring starting in late April and early May. Then, we often have an overlap period where we see blue whales and fin whales feeding in the same area. Every year, it fluctuates, but sometimes we see mostly fin whales in the summer and sometimes we mostly see blue whales in the summer months. Chances are more likely to see either a blue whale or a fin whale off the coast of California from June to September when you’re experiencing a whale-watching tour from San Diego. Book your cruise now to experience the ocean from a new vantage point.