Types of Whales
THE SPERM WHALE Physeter macrocephalus
Size: 11-18m; 20-50 tonnes
Distribution: Patchy distribution worldwide, from the tropics to high latitudes near the edge of the pack ice. Normally, only large males venture to the extreme north and south of the range. Prefers deep water and usually found offshore, but also occurs over submarine canyons near the coast.
Diet: Giant squid are the main prey, although octopi and a wide variety of large fish are also taken.
Status: The sperm whale was the mainstay of the whaling industry, and huge numbers were killed over several centuries. Against all odds, it is still fairly numerous and is probably the most abundant of all the great whales.
THE HUMPBACK WHALE
Size: 11.5-15m; 25-30 tonnes
Distribution: Widely distributed in all oceans of the world, from the poles to the tropics. Feeds in high latitudes during the spring, summer and early autumn, and migrates to tropical breeding grounds for the winter.
Diet: Schooling fish (including herring, sand lance, capelin, mackerel and salmon) as well as krill and other crustaceans.
Status: Nearly a quarter of a milion humpback whales were killed by the whaling industry, wiping out more than 95% of the world population. Fortunately, in recent years, they seem to be making good recovery in many parts of their range.
THE MINKE WHALE
Size: 7-10m; 5-10 tonnes
Distribution: Virtually worldwide, from the tropics to the edge of the polar ice, although most common in cooler waters. Some are migratory, others appear to be resident. Occurs inshore and less frequently, offshore.
Diet: Mainly krill and small schooling fish.
Status: The minke whales small size saved it from commercial whalers until relatively recently. However, now that most of its larger relatives are endangered and officially protected, it is the only baleen whale being hunted commercially under the auspices of the IWC. Nevertheless, it is still the most abundant of all baleen whales.
Size: 11.5-14.5m; 12-20 tonnes
Distribution: Warm waters worldwide. Rarely moving further north or south than 40 degrees, it occurs both offshore and near the coast. There seem to be specific pockets of abundance, such as off South Africa, Sri Lanka, Japan, Fiji and Western Australia.
Status: The history of whaling for Bryde's whale is largely unknown, because it was not consistently distringuished from the similar 'Sei Whale' until quite recently. However, it is likely that some populations have been depleted by whaling.
THE SEI WHALE
Size: 12-16m; 20-30 tonnes
Distribution: Mainly in deep, temperate waters worldwide, but also found in the sub-tropics and tropics. Rarely seen close to shore, except in deep water around islands and most common in the southern hemisphere.
Diet: Small crustaceans, such as krill and copepods, and schooling fish.
Status: Heavily depleted by commercial whaling in some areas, and as a result, the world population has dropped from an estimated 250,000 to 60,000.
THE FIN WHALE
Size: 18-22m; 30-80 tonnes
Distribution: Deep water in tropical, temperate and polar regions worldwide, but most common in cooler waters and in the southern hemisphere. Some populations seem to be resident year-round, but others may migrate between warm waters in winter and cooler waters in summer. Normally encountered offshore, but will approach the coast in deep water.
Diet: A variety of schooling fish, krill and other crustaceans and to a lesser extent squid.
Status: The world population was substantially reduced by commercial whalers and although it is not believed to be in immediate danger, the population has dropped to an estimated 120,000.
THE BLUE WHALE
Size: 21-27m; 100-120 tonnes
Distribution: Worldwide, from the tropics to the poles, although its distribution is very patchy. Some populations migrate long distances between low-latitude winter breeding grounds and high-latitude summer feeding grounds, but others appear to be resident.
Diet: Various species of krill.
Status: The blue whale was hunted relentlessly from the late 19th century. So many were killed that some stocks may never recover. Others, such as those off California and Mexico have begun to show encouraging signs of recovery.
Size: c.3-5m; 0.4-1.5 tonnes
Distribution: Found only in seasonally ice covered waters of the sub-arctic and arctic. Mostly in shallow coastal waters but will enter estuaries and even rivers.
Diet: A wide variety of fish as well as crustaceans, squid, octopus and molluscs. Believed to feed mostly on or near the bottom.
Status: Belugas have been hunted for centruries. Pollution is a serious threat in some regions with a population of 50,000 - 70,000.
FALSE KILLER WHALE
Size: 4.3 - 6m; 1.1-2.2 tonnes
Distribution: Widely distributed in tropical, sub-tropical and warm temperate waters worldwide. Prefers deep water and normally encountered offshore.
Diet: mainly fish and squid. Also know to attack dolphins.
Status: Small numbers drown in fishing nets or are hunted for food. Others are shot or driven ashore by fishermen, especially in Japan, who regard them as competitors. A few are also captured for marine parks. Total numbers are unknown.
Globicephala melas (long finned)
Globicephala macrorhynchus (short finned)
Size: 3.8 - 6m; 1.8 - 3.5 tonnes (long finned) 3.6 - 6.5m; 1 - 4 tonnes (short finned)
Distribution: The long finned pilot whale has two distinct populations: cool waters of the southern hemisphere and cool waters of the North Atlantic. The short finned pilot prefers warmer waters and is found worldwide. Both species prefer deep water.
Diet: Both species feed mainly on squid.
Status: Large numbers of long finned pilot whales are killed every year in the Faroe Islands and smaller numbers in other parts of the world. Smaller numbers of the short finned whales are killed in Japan, the Caribbean and elsewhere. Both species are still fairly comon in many parts of their range.
ORCA (KILLER WHALE)
Size: 5.5 - 9.8m; 2.6 - 9 tonnes
Distribution: Despite its rather patchy distribution, the orca is one of the most wide ranging mammals on earth. It occurs in all seas and oceans, from the equator to the poles and from near shore to deep sea.
Diet: Squid, fish, sea turtles, birds and marine mammals. No animal is too large - even adult blue whales are hunted on occasion.
Status: Shot by fishermen in some parts of the world. Live captures for oceanaria have occurred in several countries, most recently Japan and Russia.