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Sei Whale (Balaenoptera borealis)

Sei Whale / Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation
Sei whale, showing the whale's head and mouth. © Jennifer Kennedy / Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation

There are 14 species of baleen whales from the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), the largest animal in the world, to the pygmy right whale (Caperea marginata), the smallest baleen whale at about 20 feet in length.

All baleen whales are in the Order Cetacea and suborder Mysticeti and use plates made of keratin to filter their food. Common prey items for baleen whales include small schooling fish, krill and plankton.

Baleen whales are majestic animals and can exhibit fascinating behaviors, as shown in some of the photos in this image gallery.

The sei whale is a fast, streamlined baleen whale. Sei (pronounced "say") whales can reach lengths of 50 feet to 60 feet and weights of up to 17 tons. They are very slender whales and have a prominent ridge on top of their head. They are baleen whales and feed by filtering zooplankton and krill using approximately 600 to 700 baleen plates.

According to the American Cetacean Society, the sei whale got its name from the Norwegian word seje (pollock) because sei whales appeared off the coast of Norway at the same time as the pollock each year.

Sei whales often travel just below the water surface, leaving a series of 'flukeprints' -- circular slick spots caused by the water displaced by the upward motion of the whale's tail. Their most obvious characteristic is a sharply curved dorsal fin, which is located about two-thirds of the way down their back.

Sei whales are found worldwide, although they will often spend time offshore and then invade an area in groups when the food supply is abundant.

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Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus)

Blue Whale - Balaenoptera musculus picture
Largest Animal in the World A blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), showing the whale's mottled back and tiny dorsal fin. © Blue Ocean Society

Blue whales are thought to be the largest animal that ever existed. They grow to about 100 feet long (almost the length of three school buses) and weigh up to about 150 tons. Despite their gargantuan size, they are a relatively sleek baleen whale and part of the group of baleen whales known as the rorquals.

These ocean giants feed on some of the smallest animals in the world. The primary prey of blue whales is krill, which are small, shrimp-like creatures. Blue whales can consume about 4 tons of krill a day!

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Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus)

Blue whale spouting
Largest Animal in the Ocean - and the World A blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) spouting. © Blue Ocean Society

Blue whales are thought to be the largest animal ever to live on the Earth. They reach lengths up to about 100 feet and can weigh anywhere from 100 to 150 tons.

Blue whales are found in all the world's oceans. After persistent hunting starting in the late 1800's, blue whales are now a protected species and considered endangered.

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Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus) Spouting

Blue whale spouting
Whales Come to the Surface to Breathe Air A blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) spouts, or exhales, at the water surface. © Blue Ocean Society

Whales are voluntary breathers, meaning they think about each breath they take. Because they don't have gills, they need to come to the surface to breathe out of the blowholes on top of their head. When the whale comes to the surface, it exhales all the old air in its lungs and then inhales, filling its lungs up to about 90% of their capacity (we only use 15 to 30 percent of our lung capacity.) the whale's exhalation is called the "blow," or the "spout." This image shows a blue whale spouting at the surface. The blue whale's spout rises about 30 feet above the water surface, making it visible for a mile or more on a clear day.

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Humpback Whale Tail Fluke

Humpback Whale Image - Filament Fluke
Tails Are Used to Tell Whales Apart A humpback whale known as "Filament" to Gulf of Maine whale researchers shows its flukes as it dives down. © Blue Ocean Society

Humpback whales are a medium-sized baleen whale and are known for spectacular breaching and feeding behaviors.

Humpback whales are about 50 feet long and weigh 20 to 30 tons on average. Individual humpbacks can be distinguished by the shape of their dorsal fin and the pattern on the underside of their tail. This discovery led to the beginnings of photo-identification research in whales and the ability to learn much valuable information about this and other species.

This image shows the distinctive white tail, or fluke, of a whale known to Gulf of Maine whale researchers as "Filament."

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Fin Whale - Balaenoptera physalus

Fin whale image, showing scar on right side.
Second-Largest Species in the World Fin whale, showing distinctive white scarring on right side. © Blue Ocean Society

Fin whales are distributed throughout the world’s oceans, and thought to number about 120,000 worldwide.

Individual fin whales can be tracked using photo-identification research. Fin whales can be distinguished by dorsal fin shape, presence of scars, and the chevron and blaze marking near their blowholes. This photo shows a scar on a fin whale's side. The cause of the wound is unknown, but it provides a very distinctive mark that can be used by researchers to distinguish this individual whale.

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Humpback Whale Lunge-Feeding

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) lunge-feeding, showing baleen
Humpbacks Can Exhibit Spectacular Feeding Behaviors Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) lunge-feeding, showing baleen. Blue Ocean Society

Humpback whales have 500 to 600 baleen plates and feed primarily on small schooling fish and crustaceans. Humpback whales are about 50 feet long and weigh 20 to 30 tons.

This image shows a humpback whale lunge-feeding in the Gulf of Maine. The whale takes a big gulp of fish or krill and saltwater, and then uses the baleen plates hanging from its upper jaw to filter the water out and capture its prey inside.

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Fin Whale Spouting

Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) spouting
A Whale Surfaces to Breathe Through Its Blowholes Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) spouting. Blue Ocean Society

Fin whales are the second-largest species in the world. In this image, an approximately 60-foot long fin whale is coming to the ocean surface to breathe through its two blowholes located on the top of its head. The breath of a whale comes out of the blowholes at a rate of about 300 miles per hour. In contrast, we only sneeze at a rate of 100 miles per hour.

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Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)
Little Piked Whale Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata). © Blue Ocean Society

The minke (pronounced “mink-ee”) whale, is a streamlined baleen whale found in most of the world’s oceans.

Minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), are the smallest baleen whale in North American waters and the second-smallest baleen whale worldwide. They can reach lengths up to 33 feet and weigh up to 10 tons.

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Right Whale (Eubalaena Glacialis) Poop

Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) Poop / Jonathan Gwalthney
Wondering What Whale Poop Looks Like? Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) Poop. Jonathan Gwalthney

Just like us humans, whales need to get rid of waste, too.

Here is an image of whale poop (feces), from a North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis). Many people wonder what whale poop looks like, but few actually ask. 

For many baleen whales that feed in northern latitudes in the warmer months, the poop often dissipates quickly, looking like a brown or red cloud depending on what the whale is eating (brown for fish, red forkrill). We don't always see poop as well-formed as that shown in this image, which was sent in by reader Jonathan Gwalthney.

The information is especially interesting for right whales, as scientists discovered that if they can collect whale poop and extract the hormones from it, they can learn about the stress levels of the whale, and even if a whale is pregnant. But it is difficult for humans to detect whale poop unless they've seen the action actually happen, so scientists have trained dogs to sniff out the poop and point the way.

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North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis)

North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) Head
One of the Most Endangered Whales North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) head, showing callosities. Blue Ocean Society

The North Atlantic right whale’s Latin name, Eubalaena glacialis, translates to “true whale of the ice.”

North Atlantic right whales are large whales, growing to lengths up to about 60 feet and weights of up to about 80 tons. They have a dark back, white markings on their belly, and wide, paddle-like flippers. Unlike most large whales, they lack a dorsal fin. Right whales are also easily recognizable by their V-shaped spout (the whale’s visible exhalation at the water surface), their curved jaw line and the rough “callosities” on their head.

The right whale’s callosities are roughened skin patches which commonly appear on the top of the whale’s head, and on its chin, jaw and above the eyes. The callosities are the same color as the whale’s skin but appear white or yellow due to the presence of thousands of tiny crustaceans called cyamids, or “whale lice.” Researchers use photo-identification research techniques to catalog and study individual right whales, taking photos of these callosity patterns and using them to tell the whales apart.