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  • Whales


    There are over twenty species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises, hosted in the waters around the UK. Whales, dolphins and porpoises, are collectively known as cetaceans.


    Whale sightings off the UK include:


    Fin Whale

    • Scientific Name: Balaenoptera physalus.
    • Size: Up to 27 metres long (the female grows largest), and can weigh up to 80 tonnes. Its the second largest animal after the blue whale.
    • Location: Worldwide, however less common in tropical waters. Annually migrate in the spring toward the poles, and in the autumn return to temperate waters.
    • Description: They have white undersides of the flippers and flukes, are dark grey to brownish black dorsally, grading to pale or white ventrally. Streamlined in appearance, the flippers are quite short, slender, and have pointed tips. The dorsal fin can be up to 60cm tall, and the head about a quarter of the body length.
    • Behaviour: Can be found singly, in pairs, or in groups of up to 20.
    • Movement: Fast moving, and can swim up to 41km per hour. They can dive to depths of over 200m. Dives can last up to 15 minutes.
    • Feeding: Some fish and cephalopods, and planktonic crustacea. They move quite slowly when feeding, around 2 to 6.5km per hour.
    • Lifespan: Can be 85 to 90 years.

    Humpback Whale

    • Scientific Name: Megaptera novaeangliae.
    • Size: From 11 metres to 19 metres long (the female grows largest).
    • Location: Worldwide, from polar to tropical waters. They also display distinct seasonal changes in distribution, changing to warmer tropical waters in winter, and in the summer to cold water feeding grounds in polar regions.
    • Description: Its colourings are a blue-back body, with patches of white underneath. The tail fluke is patterned black and white. Some humpback fins are black on the upper surface. The pectoral fins are very large and can even reach a third of the body length. It has a knobbly head (the knobs often contain parasitic barnacles), and its dorsal fin is a hook or fleshy hump. It has 12 to 32 throat grooves.
    • Behaviour: Can be found singly, in pairs, or in groups of up to 15. They are both energetic and inquisitive, will move near to boats, and often perform displays of breaching and lob-tailing.
    • Noise: During the breeding season, the males produce very complex and lengthy songs.
    • Movement: They usually dive for about 5 to 10 minutes, although they can also dive for up to 45 minutes.
    • Feeding: Small schooling fish, such as herring, mackerel, sardines, krill, anchovies, etc. They catch their prey using huge gulps.

    Long Finned Pilot Whale

    • Scientific Name: Globicephala melas.
    • Size: Usually 4 to 6 metres long.
    • Location: Sub-polar and cold temperature.
    • Description: Black or dark grey, with a lighter underside, a grey or white stripe behind each eye, and a greyish white throat. It has a rounded bulbous forehead, which overhangs the beak. A sturdy body, with a thickened tail stock, and prominent dorsal fin half way down the body. Near the head it has very long slender pectoral fins.
    • Behaviour: Usually found in groups of 10 to 50, and occasionally up to 100+.
    • Movement: They can dive for about 10 minutes, and up to 600 metres deep.
    • Feeding: Squid, octopus, schooling fish.

    Minke Whale

    • Scientific Name: Balaenoptera acutorostrata.
    • Size: Up to 9.8 metres long, can weigh up to 10 tonnes.
    • Location: Worldwide, from polar to tropical waters. It is seen often in both coastal and inshore waters, and enters bays, inlets and estuaries. In the Hebrides, it is the second most commonly sighted cetacean.
    • Description: Its colourings are a white belly, each flipper has a white band on the upper side, and the back and fin are dark grey or black. It has a pointed and narrow head, a very streamlined and slender body, and a prominent and often strongly curved dorsal fin.
    • Behaviour: Very inquisitive and likely to approach boats, especially the younger animals. Often solitary, but can also sometimes be seen in groups of 2 or 3.
    • Noise: Their blow is small and often inconspicuous, even in calm water.
    • Movement: Very fast, they can swim up to 20km per hour. Slow whilst resting, only breaks water surface to breathe. They can dive for 3 to 8 minutes.
    • Feeding: Whichever food source is the most abundant in the area (for example, small fish like herring). They engulf large volumes of water containing their prey, sieve the water back out through plates in their mouths, and swallow their prey whole.
    • Lifespan: Can live for 40 to 50 years.

    Orca (Killer Whale)

    • Scientific Name: Orcinus orca.
    • Size: Up to 9.8m long, weighing up to 9 tonnes.
    • Location: Worldwide. They can be found in shallow bays and estuaries, but they seem to prefer deep water. They can usually be found within at least 500 miles of the shore.
    • Description: Actually part of the dolphin family. Very distinctive, with strong black, white and grey markings. Their bellies are white, on the side of their head they have a large white patch, and they have a grey saddle patch. The dorsal fin can be up to 1.8m.
    • Behaviour: Usually found in pods of about 8. Very intelligent and inquisitive, and also approachable, they have been known to spend a lot of time around boats (particularly in the Hebrides).
    • Movement: Very strong swimmers. Can travel up to 55km per hour.
    • Feeding: Fish, octopus, squid, birds, seals and other cetaceans. They often hunt together. Top of the food chain, and one of the ocean's top predators.
    • Lifespan: Up to 60 years for males, up to 90 years for females.

    Sei whale

    • Scientific Name: Balaenoptera borealis.
    • Size: Generally 14 to 15 metres long (the female grows largest), and weigh about 20 tonnes, although they have been known to grow even larger.
    • Location: Worldwide. Annually migrate, spending the summer in the polar regions, and the winter in tropical waters.
    • Description: Its colourings are a dark grey or bluish grey on the back and sides, with a greyish white area on the belly. It has a slim and streamlined body, appearing slightly arched. The head can be one fifth to one quarter of the body length.
    • Behaviour: Found singly, or in groups of up to 5.
    • Movement: Very fast swimmers, up to 20 knots.
    • Feeding: Whatever food source is most in abundance. They feed mostly on surface plankton, and also on small schooling fish.
    • Lifespan: Can be up to 65 years.