Cetacean Society International

Working for whales, dolphins and porpoises worldwide

CSI Photo Gallery

Fin (Finback) Whales

(Balaenoptera physalus)

Finback whales are big and fast. Hope's baby, Future, was born bigger than many boats. Hope may be 65 feet long and weigh 50 tons, but she moves with easy grace. Future swims in a position that simply drags her along with her mother, making swimming very easy for young whales and dolphins.
The short baleen in a finback whale's mouth is specialized to capture schooling fish and many other small creatures in huge quantities. Finbacks may use the brilliant white on the right side of their heads and bellies to frighten prey into concentrations. Then they lunge with mouths open and take in tons of water and prey at once.
A surfacing finback exhales very powerfully, sending a column of water vapor up to 30 feet in the air. You can see and hear a whale "blow" miles away. You can sometimes also tell what species it is; humpback blows are bushy, right whales are "V" shaped, finbacks are straight and tall, sperm whales angle off to the side.
This finback whale is gliding by just under the surface, curious. Can you see her eye? The subtle patterns of white streaks that sweep from her mouth up and over her back are called the blaze and chevron. Her right lower jaw is white, her left is gray. Finbacks are one of a handful of asymmetrically colored mammals. We think that this is for feeding, and perhaps communication with other finbacks by body language.
To move a 70 foot long body massing 60 tons at 21 knots this finback must be a very powerful creature. Yet to watch this whale swim all you could think of is how graceful he is. When not in a hurry finbacks can swim, perhaps without stopping, at 4-6 knots. Can this whale sleep while moving?
At home in all the world's oceans finbacks can swim almost anywhere. This finback is swimming at 4 knots in water only 12 feet deep, sort of like a human gliding through a cave. In shallow places where the tides run out too quickly whales and dolphins can become stranded. It's possible that they can survive until the tide floats them free, but it's nearly impossible for people to help such a huge creature no matter how hard they try.
Like many other species individual finbacks can often be told apart by photographs of the marks on their bodies. Scientist's catalogues of these "Photo ID's" can teach us many things, most of all that each cetacean is an individual with specific tendencies and life histories.
This finback is lunge-feeding in Provincetown harbor, where many whale watches originate. The whale has turned very fast to scoop up tons of fish in an enormous mouth. The gulls know that some fish will escape but may lie at the surface, stunned by the whale's attack.