Fin whales are the second largest whale and the second largest animal ever to have lived and can reach lengths of over 80 feet and weigh more than 160,000 lbs. A fin whale’s blow can rise 20 feet and can be seen for several miles. These whales are extremely fast, sleek, and muscular, and are sometimes referred to as “the greyhounds of the sea” they can reach a speed of 29 mph. Fin whales feed on a wide array of prey species, depending upon availability, ranging from small schooling fish such as herring, mackerel, krill, copepods and squid. A variety of feeding techniques are employed in order to concentrate prey, essentially fin whales are “gulpers,” taking in large quantities of food and water in each mouthful.
Fin whales get their name from the prominent dorsal fin, situated about 2/3 of the way back from the head. Fin whales also have a distinctive V-shaped pattern of coloration around their heads called chevrons and may also have dark eye stripes and ear stripes which form a pattern called a blaze. Dorsal fin shape, chevron and blaze patterns, and scars can be used to identify these whales. Fin whales can dive to depths of over 600 feet and can remain submerged for 30 minutes. Typically, fin whales remain near the surface for a series of breaths every 10-12 seconds and will then go into a dive. When feeding near the surface, dives can last about 3 minutes; fin whales arch their backs as they go into a dive, but usually don’t show their flukes.
Fin whales, like other mysticetes, are solitary animals, but can be seen feeding in groups of 3-20 when food is abundant. The one and only stable association in fin whales are between a mother and her calf, which last for approximately 6-7 months. There are about 20,000 fin whales in the North Pacific, although researchers don’t have enough data to determine the fin whale’s population it seems that fin whale numbers have increased over the past decade.