Fabulous Fin Whales

Fin whales. Photo by Caitlin Scully.

By Caitlin Scully, aquarium naturalist

The northbound migration is beginning! We’ve seen more and more northbound grays in the last few weeks, although these viewings have not been consistent. We seem to stumble upon the grays rather than spot them from a distance.

To witness the northbound migration, the Marietta must motor further off shore – sometimes as far as 12 miles – to find the whales. Traveling this far out brings ample opportunity to spot other types of whales. At nine miles off shore, we know to keep our eyes peeled for rorquals, the largest group of baleen whales. This group includes blue, fin, minke, and humpback whales – all of which we’ve seen from our boat.

This season, we’ve witnessed many fin whales. These large whales spend a few minutes breathing at the surface before diving deep to feed on krill and small fish. These whales are fast. In fact, they are the fastest of the large baleen whales and can easily travel 30 miles per hour for long distances of time. Fin whales are also the second largest animals on earth, behind the blue whale. They measure up to 88 feet in length (nearly as long as the Marietta) and can weigh 160,000 pounds.

Passengers on one whale watching trip were lucky enough to see fin whales lunge feeding. This is when the whales roll to one side, open their mouths wide, expand their 50-80 accordion-like throat pleats, and lunge forward in the water. The whales engulf a huge amount of water and food, which they filter out through their baleen plates. When the whales lunge feed, we often see their pectoral (side) fins and part of the whales’ flukes. It’s always exciting to see fin whales, as they are often the largest animals our whale watchers will see in their lifetimes.

We patiently await the steady stream of northbound gray whales, which should arrive any day now. Until then, we are enjoying the spectacular fin whales.

Fin whales. Photo by Caitlin Scully.

Fin whales. Photo by Caitlin Scully.

Fin whales. Photo by Caitlin Scully.

You Might Also Like

  • MichaelArchangel
    January 10, 2013 at 7:13 pm

    The Fin whales are great. As a field science instructor who was born on San Clemente Island, I have enjoyed only 1 view of the wonderful Fin whale. I was in my middle-years and working on Field Research on San Celemente Island when a young field biology student from San Diego State University pointed-out the Fin whale off our coastal location about 1/2 mile. As many of you know there is a very deep ocean canyon running between many of the Channel Islands of California. This whale (the only one I every saw in over 45 years) look very different then the many, many Grey whales we would see from our family home on the Wilson Cove side of the Island. Keep-up-your-great-work!

  • Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego