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Gray Whale Watching Season Begins December 9

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Baleen Whales

Hornblower’s Whale & Dolphin Watching Adventure Cruises highlight baleen whales, especially Gray Whales and Blue Whales, which seasonally travel along the San Diego coastline. This page features Humpback Whales, Minke Whales and Fin whales that are also commonly spotted during these whale watch cruises.

All whales are cetaceans— a group of marine mammal that includes all dolphins, porpoises, and whales. Cetaceans have a single or double blowhole (nostril/s) on top of their head, two front flippers, and tail flukes that they move up and down to swim through the water. 

Baleen whales are in the Scientific Order Mysticeti. Unlike toothed whales, baleen whales have a double blowhole and rows of baleen hanging down from each side of their upper jaw. These whales use their baleen for filtering tiny, clustered prey from the water. Baleen whales also tend to be much larger than toothed whales.

Visit our Gray Whale Page and Blue Whale Page to discover more about these two species. Below you can learn about some of the other baleen whale species you may see during a Hornblower whale watch cruise.

 

Humpback Whale
Megaptera novaeangliae

DESCRIPTION:

These graceful baleen whales are mostly dark gray to dark brown with with varying amounts of white on their flippers, flukes, and belly.  They have long, wing-like flippers and a small, irregularly-shaped dorsal fin. Adults are about as long as a school bus or up to 50 feet long  (15.2 meters) and weigh up to 40 tons (36,287 kilograms). Females grow larger than males.

RANGE & HABITAT:

Humpback Whales are found in all oceans worldwide.

DIET:
Humpback whales are carnivores—they only eat meat. They strain large amounts of tiny clustered prey including krill (a shrimp-like crustacean), small schooling fish, pelagic or swimming crabs, and squid out of the water using their baleen.

REPRODUCTION:
Females give birth to a single calf (baby), which is nursed for about a year.

BEHAVIOR:
Humpback whales are found singly or traveling or feeding in groups of 2 or more individuals. Humpbacks are one of the most acrobatic whales and often fluke (lift their flukes out of the water before diving), breach, spyhop, flipper slap, and lobtail/ tailslap.

PREDATORS:
Orcas/ killer whales are the only natural predator of humpbacks.

DID YOU KNOW?
The markings on the underside of a humpbacks flukes are as individual as a fingerprint. Researchers use photos of the flukes to catalog and identify humpbacks in a population.

Humpbacks utilize often feed by lunging for food at the surface or underwater. Another exciting method these great whales use to feed is bubble netting where one humpback surrounds a school of fish with net of bubbles that it releases from their blowholes.  then several whales surface through the trapped fish with their mouths wide open.

 

Fin/ Finback Whale
Balaenoptera physalus

fin whaleDESCRIPTION:
Fin whales are long and sleek with a v-shaped head. They are mostly gray with a white belly. They have a pronounced, falcate (curved back) dorsal fin dorsal fin. Adults are about as long as 2 school buses or up to 85 feet long  (26 meters) and weigh up to 80 tons (72,575 kilograms). Females grow larger than males.

RANGE & HABITAT:

Fin whales are found in all oceans worldwide.

DIET:
Fin whales are carnivores—they only eat meat. They use their baleen to strain large amounts of tiny clustered prey including krill (a shrimp-like crustacean), small schooling fishes, and squid out of the water.

REPRODUCTION:
Females give birth to a single calf (baby), which is nursed for about a year.

BEHAVIOR:
Fin whales are found singly or traveling or feeding in groups of 2 or more fin whales or other baleen whale species. They rarely fluke or breach. Occasionally, they are seen lunge-feeding at the water’s surface.

PREDATORS:
Orcas/ killer whales are the only natural predator of fin whales.

DID YOU KNOW?
Fin whales have asymmetrical coloration. The right side of their jaw is white while the left side is dark. The abrupt contrast between the dark and light parts of the fin whales right jaw may startle prey into a tighter cluster when the whale hunts.

Fin whales are nicknamed the “greyhounds of the sea” and can reach speeds of 23 mph (37 kph) for short bursts of time.


Minke Whale
Balaenoptera acutorostrata

Minke whale

DESCRIPTION:

These small, baleen whales are sleek with a v-shaped head. They are mostly black with light chevron-shaped gray markings and a white belly and a white band on each flipper. They also have a pronounced, falcate (curved back) dorsal fin dorsal fin. Adults are about 26 to33 feet (8 to 10 meters) long and weigh up to 10 tons (9,072 kilograms). Females grow larger than males.

RANGE & HABITAT:
Minke whales are found in all oceans worldwide, although they are rare in the tropics.

DIET:
Minke whales are carnivores—they only eat meat. They use their baleen to strain large amounts of tiny clustered prey including krill (a shrimp-like crustacean) and small schooling fishes out of the water.

REPRODUCTION:
Females give birth to a single calf (baby), which is nursed for about 6 months.

BEHAVIOR:
Minke whales are usually found by themselves, but occasionally travel in small groups of 2 to 6 whales. Occasionally they are seen in small groups of up to 4 whales. Some minkes are curious and will approach boats while others can be shy and difficult to spot. Minke whales occasionally breach.

PREDATORS:
Orcas/ killer whales are the only natural predator of minke whales.

DID YOU KNOW?
The white bands on the minke whale’s flippers are called “minke mittens”. These minke mittens may be used to startle and concentrate prey while the whale is hunting.