Types of Baleen Whales

Learn About the 14 Baleen Whale Species

There are currently 86 recognized species of whales, dolphins and porpoises. Of these, 14 are Mysticetes, or baleen whales. These whales feed using a filtering system made up of baleen plates, which allow the whale to feed on large quantities of prey at once while filtering out sea water. Below you can learn about the 14 species of a baleen whales - for a lengthier list that includes other whale species, click here.

Blue Whale feeding near shore, New Zealand
Kim Westerskov/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images
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 100-190 tons. Their skin is a beautiful gray-blue color, often with a mottling of light spots. This pigmentation allows researchers to tell individual blue whales apart. Blue whales also make some of the loudest sounds in the animal kingdom. These low frequency sounds travel a long way underwater - some scientists have speculated that without interference, a blue whale sound could travel from the North Pole to the South Pole. More »

Fin Whale - Balaenoptera physalus

The fin whale is the second-largest animal in the world, with a mass greater even than any dinosaur. These are fast, streamlined whales that sailors nicknamed "the greyhounds of the sea". Fin whales have a unique asymmetrical coloration - they have a white patch on their lower jaw on their right side, and this is absent on the whale's left side.

Sei Whale - Balaenoptera borealis

Sei (pronounced "say") whales are one of the fastest whales species. They are a streamlined animal with a dark back and white underside and very curved dorsal fin. Their name came from the Norwegian word for pollock (a type of fish) - seje - because sei whales and pollock often appeared off the coast of Norway at the same time.

Bryde's Whale - Balaenoptera edeni

The Bryde's (pronounced "broodus") whale is named for Johan Bryde, who built the first whaling stations in South Africa (Source: NOAA Fisheries). Bryde's whales look similar to sei whales, except they have 3 ridges on their head where a sei whale has one. Bryde's whales are 40-55 feet long and weigh up to about 45 tons. The scientific name for the Bryde's whale is Balaenoptera edeni, but there is increasing evidence that shows there may actually be two Bryde's whale species - a coastal species that would be known as Balaenoptera edeni and an offshore form known as Balaenoptera brydei.

The Omura's whale is a fairly new species designated in 2003. Until then, it was thought to be a smaller form of the Bryde's whale, but more recent genetic evidence supported classification of this whale as a separate species. Although the exact range of Omura's whale is unknown, limited sightings have confirmed that it lives in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, including Southern Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines and the Solomon Sea. Its appearance is similar to a sei whale in that it has one ridge on its head, and is also thought to have asymmetrical coloration on its head, similar to the fin whale. More »

Humpback Whale - Megaptera novaeangliae

Humpback whales are a medium-sized baleen whale - they are about 40-50 feet long and weigh, on average, 20-30 tons. They have very distinctive long, wing-like pectoral fins that are about 15-feet long. Humpbacks undertake long migrations each season between high latitude feeding grounds and low latitude breeding grounds, often fasting for weeks or months during the winter breeding season.

Gray Whale - Eschrichtius robustus

Gray whales are about 45 feet long and can weigh around 30-40 tons. They have a mottled coloration with a gray background and light spots and patches. There are now two gray whale populations - the California gray whale which is found from breeding grounds off Baja California, Mexico to feeding grounds off Alaska, and a small population off the coast of eastern Asia, known as the Western North Pacific or Korean gray whale stock. Once there was a population of gray whales in the North Atlantic Ocean, but that population is now extinct.

Common Minke Whale - Balaenoptera acutorostrata

Minke whales are small, but still about 20-30 feet long. The common minke whale has been divided into 3 subspecies - the North Atlantic minke whale ( Balaenoptera acutorostrata acutorostrata), the North Pacific minke whale ( Balaenoptera acutorostrata scammoni), and the dwarf minke whale (whose scientific name has not yet been determined). They are widely distributed, with North Pacific and North Atlantic minkes found in the northern hemisphere while the dwarf minke whale's distribution is similar to the Antarctic minke described below.

Antarctic Minke Whale - Balaenoptera bonaerensis

The Antarctic minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis) was proposed for recognition as a species separate from the common minke whale in the late 1990's. This minke whale is slightly larger than its more northern relatives, and has gray pectoral fins, rather than gray fins with white pectoral fin patches seen on the common minke whale. These whales are typically found off Antarctica in the summer and closer to the equator (e.g., around South America, Africa and Australia) in the winter. You can see a range map for this species here.

The bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) got its name from its bow-shaped jaw. They are 45-60 feet long and can weigh up to 100 tons. The bowhead's blubber layer is over 1-1/2 feet thick, which provides insulation against the cold Arctic waters in which they live. Bowheads are still hunted by native whalers in the Arctic under International Whaling Commission permits for aboriginal subsistence whaling. More »

North Atlantic Right Whale - Eubalaena glacialis

The North Atlantic right whale got its name from whalers, who thought it was the "right" whale to hunt. These whales grow to about 60 feet in length and 80 tons in weight. They can be identified by the rough patches of skin, or callosities on their head. North Atlantic right whales spend their summer feeding season in cold, northern latitudes off Canada and New England and their winter breeding season off the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

North Pacific Right Whale - Eubalaena japonica

Up until about the year 2000, the North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica) was considered the same species as the North Atlantic right whale, but since then, has been treated as a separate species. Due to heavy amounts of whaling from the 1500's to 1800's, the population of this species has been reduced to a small fraction of its former size, with some estimates (e.g., IUCN Red List) listing as few as 500 individuals.

Southern Right Whale - Eubalaena australis

Like its northern counterpart, the southern right whale is a large, bulky-looking baleen whale that reaches lengths of 45-55 feet and weights up to 60 tons. They have the interesting habit of "sailing" in strong winds by lifting its huge tail flukes above the water surface. Like many other large whale species, the southern right whale migrates between warmer, low-latitude breeding grounds and colder, high-latitude feeding grounds. Their breeding grounds are fairly distinct, and include South Africa, Argentina, Australia, and parts of New Zealand.

Pygmy Right Whale - Caperea marginata

The pygmy right whale (Caperea marginata) is the smallest, and probably the least known baleen whale species. It has a curved mouth like other right whales, and are thought to feed on copepods and krill. These whales are about 20 feet long and weigh about 5 tons. They live in temperate waters of the Southern Hemisphere between 30-55 degrees south. This species is listed as "data deficient" on the IUCN Red List, which states that they may be "naturally rare... simply difficult to detect or identify, or perhaps its areas of concentration have not yet been discovered."