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Mammals and Wildlife


Blue Whale

Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whales are the largest animals ever to live on our planet. They feed almost exclusively on krill, straining huge volumes of ocean water through their baleen plates (which hang from the roof of the mouth and work like a sieve). Some of the biggest individuals may eat up to 6 tons of krill in 1 day.

Blue whales are found in all oceans except the Arctic Ocean. There are five currently recognized subspecies of blue whales.
The number of blue whales in the world’s oceans is only a small fraction of what it was before modern commercial whaling significantly reduced their numbers during the early 1900s, but populations are increasing globally. Today, blue whales are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Fin Whale

Balaenoptera physalus

The fin whale is the second-largest species of whale. It is found throughout the world’s oceans. It gets its name from an easy-to-spot fin on its back, near its tail.

A fin whale has a sleek, streamlined body with a V-shaped head. It has a tall, hooked dorsal fin about two-thirds of the way back on the body that rises at a shallow angle from the back. Fin whales have distinctive coloration: black or dark brownish-gray on the back and sides, white on the underside. Head coloring is asymmetrical—dark on the left side of the lower jaw, white on the right-side lower jaw, and the other way around on the tongue. Many fin whales have several light-gray, V-shaped “chevrons” behind their heads; on many of them, the underside of the tail flukes is white with a gray border. These markings are unique and can be used to identify individual fin whales.

Gray Whale

Eschrichtius robustus

Once common throughout the Northern Hemisphere, gray whales are now only found in the North Pacific Ocean where there are two extant populations: one in the eastern and one in the western North Pacific.

The eastern population was once listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act but successfully recovered and was delisted in 1994. The western population remains very low in number, and is listed as endangered under the ESA and depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Gray whales are known for their curiosity toward boats and are the focus of whale watching and ecotourism along the west coast of North America. Gray whales make one of the longest annual migrations of any mammal, traveling about 10,000 miles round-trip.
These large whales can grow to about 49 feet long and weigh approximately 90,000 pounds. Females are slightly larger than males. Gray whales have a mottled gray body with small eyes located just above the corners of the mouth. Their pectoral flippers are broad, paddle-shaped, and pointed at the tips. Lacking a dorsal fin, they instead have a dorsal hump about two-thirds of the way back on the body, and a series of 6 to 12 small bumps, called “knuckles”, between the dorsal hump and the tail flukes. The tail flukes are nearly 10 feet wide with S-shaped trailing edges and a deep median notch.

Humpback Whale

Megaptera novaeangliae

The humpback whale takes its common name from the distinctive hump on its back. Its long pectoral fins inspired its scientific name, Megaptera, which means “big-winged.” Humpback whales are a favorite of whale watchers―they are often active at the water surface, for example, jumping out of the water and slapping the surface with their pectoral fins or tails.

Humpback whales live in oceans around the world. They travel incredible distances every year and have one of the longest migrations of any mammal on the planet. Some populations swim 5,000 miles from tropical breeding grounds to colder, productive feeding grounds. Humpback whales feed on krill (small shrimp-like crustaceans) and small fishes by straining huge volumes of ocean water through their baleen plates.

Humpback whales’ bodies are primarily black, but individuals have different amounts of white on their pectoral fins, their bellies, and the undersides of their flukes (tails). Many Southern Hemisphere humpback whales have extensive amounts of white on their flanks and bellies. Northern hemisphere humpback whales tend to have fewer white markings.

Humpback whale flukes can be up to 18 feet wide—they are serrated along the trailing edge, and pointed at the tips. Tail fluke patterns, in combination with varying shapes and sizes of the dorsal fin and/or prominent scars, are unique to each animal. They are distinctive enough to be used as “fingerprints” to identify individuals.

When photographed, scientists can catalog individuals and track them over time, a process called photo-identification.

Killer Whale (Orca)

Orcinus orca

The killer whale, also known as orca, is one of the top marine predators. It is the largest member of the Delphinidae family, or oceanic dolphins. Members of this family include all dolphin species, as well as other larger species such as the long-finned pilot whales and short-finned pilot whales, whose common names also contain “whale” instead of “dolphin.”

Found in every ocean in the world, they are the most widely distributed of all cetaceans (whales and dolphins). Scientific studies have revealed many different populations with several distinct ecotypes (or forms) of killer whales worldwide—some of which may be different species or subspecies. They are one of the most recognizable marine mammals, with their distinctive black and white bodies. Globally, killer whales occur in a wide range of habitats, both open seas and coastal waters.Taken as a whole, the species has the most varied diet of all cetaceans, but different populations are usually specialized in their foraging behavior and diet. They often use a coordinated hunting strategy, working as a team like a pack of wolves.

Killer whales are mostly black on top with white undersides and white patches near the eyes. They also have a gray or white saddle patch behind the dorsal fin. These markings vary widely between individuals and populations. Adult males develop disproportionately larger pectoral flippers, dorsal fins, tail flukes, and girths than females.