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Home / News / General / Hawaii’s cetaceans

Hawaii’s cetaceans

By: Denver Leaman

Fin Whale

Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus)
Suborder: Mysticeti Family: Balaenopteridae
Has been sighted in Hawaiian waters.

Other known names:

Finback, Finner, Common Rorqual Razorback, Herring whale

General description and habits:

The Fin whale is the second largest whale. They are known to grow to more than 26 meters though the average length is much smaller. They are large, long and streamlined with silvery gray, dark gray or brownish black skin. They have asymmetrical pigmentation on their heads. On their right sides their lower lip, mouth cavity and baleen plates are white, while the left side is dark. Their backward sloping dorsal fins, which give fin whales their name, are more pronounced than in other baleen whales and are set far behind the center of the body. Fin whales have baleen with fine bristles that are brownish gray to gray-white. Their baleen can be up to 70cm long. Fin whales are the second largest animals on earth. When they are born, they are between 6 and 6.5 meters (19ft 9in - 21ft 6in) long. They usually grow to between 18 and 22 meters (59ft - 72 ft 3in). Fin whales weigh about 2 tonnes when they are born. Adults can weigh from 30 tonnes to as much as 80 tonnes. Fin whales neither avoid nor approach boats. They are fast swimmers and are known to breach. When fin whales eat they often turn on their sides with the right side facing downward. In this position the lighter coloration on the side of the head makes it less visible to the intended prey. They blow a few times at intervals of 10 to 20 seconds before diving for five to fifteen minutes (though they are capable of much longer dives). They can dive to depths of 230 meters (755ft). They live in groups of between 3 and 7 individuals, though may gather in larger groups at feeding grounds.

Identity keys to use in the field:

Very long streamlined body, Smooth skin with no callosities or barnacles, Asymmetrical head pigmentation, Ridge on head, Grey white chevron, Very high blow/spout, Small fin, Normally in small groups or alone


Fish, Krill and/or other crustaceans


Fin whales can be seen in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres (including the Antarctic), wherever there is deep water. They are least common in the tropics and do enter polar waters but not as often as Blue or Minke whales. There are 3 geographically isolated populations - in the North Atlantic, in the North Pacific and the southern hemisphere. Some populations may migrate but this is not easy to predict. Fin whales in the Gulf of California appear to be year round residents.

Population estimates:

Fin whales were extensively hunted in the past and the population is a fraction of what it used to be.


Like other large whales, they are threatened by environmental change (including noise and chemical pollution)

Interesting facts:

Fin whales are the second largest animals on earth, after Blue whales. Fin whales can possibly live for up to 100 years. The low-frequency pulses produced by fin whales have been measured at up to 188 decibels. Though humans cannot hear them, other Fin whales can hear them from 850km (528 miles) away. A fin whale calling off the coast of North Carolina, USA, can be heard off Nova Scotia, Canada, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico! Most whales, dolphins and porpoises have just one baby at a time. However, there are records of Fin whales with up to six fetuses. It is rare for more than one fetus to survive beyond birth, and if they do, the mother cannot produce enough milk for more than one.

Hawaii’s cetaceans
  • Humpback whales
  • Striped Dolphin
  • Spinner Dolphin
  • Baird’s Beaked Whale
  • Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin
  • Blainville's Beaked Whale
  • Bryde's Whale
  • Cuvier's Beaked Whale
  • Dwarf Sperm Whale
  • False Killer Whale
  • Fin Whale
  • Killer Whale
  • Melon-headed Whale
  • Minke Whale
  • Northern Right Whale
  • Pygmy Killer Whale
  • Pygmy Sperm Whale
  • Risso's Dolphin
  • Rough-toothed Dolphin
  • Short-finned Pilot Whale
  • Sperm Whale
  • Spotted Dolphin



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