Description & Characteristics:
Fin whales are found worldwide, typically migrating from the poles in summer, where they breed, to temperate waters for the winter. Often solitary, they may also travel in pairs or in small pods of 6 or 7 individuals. In the mid-1900’s, Fin whales were hunted for their oil, meat, and baleen. After World War II, Fins formed the largest part of whalers’ catches when a maximum 28,761 were taken in 1960-61. It was not until ‘commercial extinction’ in the 1970’s that a ban on Fin hunting was imposed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The species has been totally protected since 1976 and their numbers have started to rebound.
A distinguishing feature of Fin whales is the asymmetrical coloring of their left and right mandibles. The left is a bluish-grey color while the right is mostly white. The reason for this unusual patterning is unclear but may somehow aid in the capture of prey as Fin whales feed in a tilted position.
The fastest of the baleen whales, Fin whales also dive deeper than many other whale species feeding on a wide variety of marine organisms including squid, krill, and larger schooling fish such as cod and pollock. They have been observed circling schools of fish at high speed, rolling the fish into compact balls then turning on their right side to engulf the fish. They can consume up to two tons of food per day. During feeding, large volumes of water and food are taken into the mouth which has pleated grooves in it to allow the throat to expand considerably. As the mouth closes water is expelled through the comb-like baleen plates, which trap the food on the inside near the tongue to be swallowed. Baleen plates are stiff and plastic-like, sometimes measuring up to 30 inches in length and 12 inches in width (they were once used as stiffeners in ladies’ corsets).
Fin whales reach sexual maturity at about 6-10 years of age. As in some other whales, sexual maturity is reached before physical maturity. Mating occurs during the spring months in temperate or subtropical waters and calves are born approximately one year later. They measure about 20 feet in length and weigh about two tons . The calves will nurse for about six months during which time they will grow to 30 or 40 feet in length and weigh up to 15 tons.