Common Name: Humpback Whale

The Arabian Sea humpback whale population is 'Endangered' and remains in the northern Arabian Sea from Yemen in the west to Gujarat in the east.

Humpback Whale
Humpback WhalethumbBlue whale size.svg

Size comparison against an average human

Conservation Status
bluewhale Status iucn3.1 EN.svg

Least Concern(IUCN 3.1)

Scientific Classification
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Subclass Eutheria
Order Cetacea
Suborder Mysticeti
Family Balaenopteridae
Genus Megaptera
Gray, 1846
Species M. novaeangliae
Binomial Name
Megaptera novaeangliae
(Borowski, 1781)

Humpback whale Cetacea range map

Humpback Whale range.

Source: Wikipedia

General Description: The body of a Humpback Whale is more robust than those of the other rorquals. The top of the head is flattened and covered by a number of fleshy knobs. There is a round protuberance at the tip of the lower jaw.

From above, the head is broad and rounded. Unlike the other rorquals, the ridge along the midline on top of the head is indistinct. The number of throat grooves is 14 to 35, extending to the navel. The dorsal fin is located less than one-third of the body length from the tail fluke notch. It may be small and triangular, or larger and sickle-shaped. It frequently includes a step or hump, giving the species its common name. A Humpback’s flippers are very long, measuring about one-third of the total length. They are scalloped with knobs or bumps.

Humpbacks are black or grey, with a white region on the throat and belly. The flippers are white underneath, sometimes above as well. The tail flukes are broad and butterfly-shaped, and have some white below.

Humpback whale

Size: Adults, Humpback males grow to a length of 15 m, and females to 16 m. Weights as given by different sources vary from 25 to about 65 tons. Calves at birth, 4.5m long.

Appearance At Sea: Usually seen in family groups of three or four, Humpbacks produce a single bushy spout up to 3 m high.

Some Humpbacks leap out of the water and lobtail prior to feeding. Humpbacks appear to enjoy breaching, and this type of behaviour attracts tourists to watch them off the east coast of the USA. A breaching Humpback launches gracefully into the air and executes a half-twist so that it lands on its back. One young animal in the Caribbean was noted breaching 130 times over 75 minutes.

Seagulls steal fish from Humpbacks' open mouths, but careless birds may be swallowed accidentally. The stomach of a Humpback Whale that washed ashore in England in 1825 was found to contain six sea birds.

Commercial whaling has taken its toll of Humpback Whale populations. Complete protection since 1964 has failed to bring up today’s stocks higher than 10 percent of their pre-exploitation level.

The singing of Humpbacks at their breeding grounds is now famous. Their songs are audible from far away. These whales do not sing at their feeding grounds, though they do communicate with each other.

Humpback whale1

Found In: Whales are found in coastal and shelf-edge waters. They feed on swarming crustaceans and shoaling fish.

Records from India: One Humpback Whale was stranded near Quilon in 1943. The next record from India is of a dead one that was washed ashore near Kasaragod in January 1988. This was probably the same carcass that turned up at Nileswaram five days later. In January 2001 a Humpback Whale was landed in southern Tamil Nadu. A humpback whale was entangled off the coast of Mangrol in 2006 and released by fishers. A live humpback whale stranded at Una, Gujarat in September 2017 and a singing whale was recorded off the coast of Goa in 2017 too. Humpback whales have also been sighted off the coast of Jakhau by the Indian Coast Gaurd.

World Distribution: These whales are widely distributed in all oceans.

Could Be Confused With:At a distance, Humpback Whales may look a little like some rorquals, but the Humpback is set apart from them by its habit of raising the tail flukes before sounding. Great Sperm Whales Physeter macrocephalus also throw their tails in the air but they do not have any white markings on them.

Diagnostic Features:At sea, Small dorsal fin mounted on a fleshy step or platform, enormous flippers, broad tail flukes with white markings.

Stranded Specimens:The fleshy knobs on head and the protuberance at the tip of the lower jaw are distinctive. The baleen is also characteristic.There are 270 to 400 baleen plates on each side, the largest being up to 70 cm long and 30 cm wide. They are black with black or olive-black bristles.

Common Name: Fin Whale

Fin Whale*
Fin Whalethumb

 

A Fin Whale surfaces in the Kenai Fjords, Alaska

Fin whale size.svg

Size comparison against an average human

Conservation Status
fin Status iucn3.1 EN.svg

Endangered (IUCN 3.1)

Scientific Classification
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Subclass Eutheria
Order Cetacea
Suborder Mysticeti
Family Balaenopteridae
Genus Balaenoptera
Species B. physalus
Binomial Name
Balaenoptera physalus
(Linnaeus, 1758)

finwhale Cetacea range map

Fin Whale range.

Source: Wikipedia

General Description: A large and sleek whale, the Fin Whale has a narrow, V-shaped snout. The top of the head is flat, with a prominent median ridge. The back, from the dorsal fin to the flukes, is distinctly ridged (‘razorback’). The ventral grooves, numbering 56 to 100, extend to the navel or beyond.

The falcate dorsal fin is up to and more than 60 cm tall. It is located about one-third the body length forward from the fluke notch.

The colouration is dark grey to brownish black on the back and sides. The head has asymmetric pigmentation, with the right lower jaw white, and the left, dark. Below, the animal is white, including the undersides of the flukes and flippers.

finwhale

Size: Adults, Males are up to 21 m long, and females, 26 m. The weight is about 80 tons. The Fin Whale is the second largest of the great whales after the Blue Whale B. musculus.Calves at birth, 6.5m long.

Appearance At Sea: At is reported that Fin Whales may be easily approached very close in a small inflatable boat. The whales are quite aware of the human presence, and exercise great caution to avoid overturning the boat.

TheThe dorsal fin, in travelling whales, appears on the surface shortly after the blow. The blow is tall (4 to 6 m high), and shaped like an inverted cone.

finwhale1

Fin Whales are known to make loud low-frequency sounds that may be heard hundreds of kilometres away under the sea. The sounds they make may be a way of keeping in contact with others, so that each Fin Whale or pair may be part of a very large herd scattered across the ocean. The throbbing of ships’ engines may interrupt such communications.

Fin Whales have more and coarser baleen plates than Blue Whales. They filter out the larger planktonic animals and small fish that travel in shoals. Fins, the only known asymmetrically coloured cetacean species, have been reported using their white right side to confuse and concentrate schools of fish. This is believed to allow them to get more fish in one gulp. Fin Whales are reported to frequently hunt in pairs.

finwhale2

Found In: Generally found in the open ocean, Fin Whales may also be seen near the coast.

Records from India: There are a number of instances of Fin Whale strandings and of live animals being caught in fishing nets in India. Strandings are also known from Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Many rorquals recorded in India have not been identified. Some of these may be Fin Whales.

DateDetailsReference
[?] Five vertebrae of “Balaenoptera blythi” in the Medical College, Calcutta. De Silva, 1987
6 August 1965 One 14.10m long specimen stranded at Virar near Bombay. Grubh & Pereira, 1965
9 October 1965 One 15.10m long specimen washed ashore off Nepean Sea Road, Bombay. Grubh & Pereira, 1965;
Karbhari et al., 1966
April 1970 A 13.50m long specimen found at Candolim, north of Panaji. Dhawan, 1970
13 August 1971 Carcass of 14.05m long whale found off Magdalla near Surat,
about 8 km upstream in the river Tapti.
Karbhari, 1973
22 January 1983 Young Fin Whale washed ashore at Akkamadam, Rameswaram Island. Nammalwar et al., 1983
15 June 1988 Female 4.69m long landed at Pudumanaikuppam, Madras. Subramani, 1989;
Anonymous, 1988a
15 March 1989 A 14.02m long female specimen stranded at Ullal, South Kanara. Kulkarni et al., 1989
14 April 1991 Carcass about 10m long at Kodi Kanyana (Kota), Karnataka. Purandhara & Vaman Naik,
1992
20 November 1995 A 6.8m specimen stranded on rocks at Kanyakumari. Joel et al., 1996

World Distribution: The Fin Whale has a wide distribution, being found in all waters, but is less common in the tropics.

Could Be Confused With: There is a possibility of confusion with the Sei Whale Balaenoptera borealis and Bryde’s Whale Balaenoptera edeni. They can be distinguished as follows:

SpeciesFinBackScarringRidgesDiving
Fin Whale Angle of 50° from back; visible long after blow. Dark back Seldom scarred One ridge on head Longest dives 5–15 minutes
Sei Whale Angle of 30°; visible simultaneously with blow. Shiny back Often scarred One ridge on head Short dives of 3–6 minutes
Bryde's Whale Angle of 70°; visible son after blow. Dark back Sometimes scarred Three ridges on head Fairly long dives of 4–10 minutes

Diagnostic Features: At sea, Small dorsal fin placed well back on the body; flat head.

Stranded Specimens: There are 260 to 480 baleen plates on each side, reaching a maximum length of 72 cm and width of 30 cm. The front baleen plates on the right side are white or yellowish white. The remainder of the baleen plates on the right side, and all those on the left side, are striped with alternate bands of yellowish white and bluish grey. The fringes of the plates are brownish grey to greyish white.

Note: A species of baleen whale Balaenoptera omurai has been described recently. This species is reported to be similar to but smaller in size than the Fin Whale, B. physalus. Further, the occurrence in the northern Indian Ocean has been questioned recently. The species in the region needs or need to be confirmed.

* According to the current understanding of distribution, these species are not present in the Northern Indian ocean.

Common Name: Blue Whale

Blue Whale
bluewhalethumb

 

Adult blue whale from the eastern Pacific Ocean.

Blue whale size.svg

Size comparison against an average human

Conservation Status
bluewhale Status iucn3.1 EN.svg

Endangered (IUCN 3.1)

Scientific Classification
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Subclass Eutheria
Order Cetacea
Suborder Mysticeti
Family Balaenopteridae
Genus Balaenoptera
Species B. musculus
Binomial Name
Balaenoptera musculus
(Linnaeus, 1758)

Blue Whale range map

Blue Whale range.

Source: Wikipedia

General Description: The body is very broad and the head is U-shaped when seen from above, whilst the tail stock is narrow. There is one ridge from the blowhole to the tip of the snout. There are two slightly concave regions, above the lungs. The flippers are slim and one-seventh the body length. The dorsal fin is very small - less than 33 cm high and variable in shape. It is located far back on the animal's tail stock. Blue Whales are bluish grey overall, mottled with grey or greyish white. Some animals may have a yellowish or mustard colouration, caused by diatom accumulations. The number of ventral grooves as given by different sources varies from 55 to 100.

bluewhale

Size: Adults,These are the largest living animals. They attain lengths of 24 to 28 m, females and animals of the southern hemisphere being larger. Before whaling depleted Blue Whale stocks, individuals of the Antarctic attained lengths of 30.5 m. Such animals were estimated to weigh over 160 tons. Present day individuals are believed to weigh 100 to 120 tons. Calves at birth, 7m long.

Appearance At Sea: Blue Whales are generally found in close-knit groups of 3-4 animals which may associate with other such groups for feeding and breeding. There are separate populations of Blues in the northern and southern hemispheres. There may be no more than a few hundred Blue Whales left in the southern hemisphere, even after decades of protection. As a result of intense hunting, the ecological balance in areas where whales were once common has been upset. In the Southern Ocean the killing of Blue Whales and Fin Whales Balaenoptera physalus has led to a great increase in the krill population. More krill has become available to other species. The oesophagus of the Blue Whale is quite narrow. Its width is only sufficient to allow the passage of krill that are about 5 cm long. A large Blue Whale can consume four to eight tons of krill a day. After the four months of the krill season in the polar region, the Blues move to the tropics. Apparently they do not feed at all in the warmer waters.

blue whale1

While breathing, the whale surfaces horizontally so that the blowhole and much of the back appear at the same time. The spout is vertical, slender and up to 9 m in height.

Blue whales produce loud and deep sounds that are said to be ‘the most powerful sustained utterances known from whales or any other living source’. They may produce high-frequency sounds also.

Found In: Blue Whales are found in the open ocean, particularly along the edge of continental shelves. They probably do not dive deep normally because their principal food, krill (small shrimplike animals), is found in the top 100 m of the sea.

Records from India: There are many records of Blue Whales being stranded and washed ashore on the Indian coast. There are a few instances of them getting caught in nets, and also of them being seen at sea. Indian records have continued to appear in the 1980s and 1990s. The larger animals among the unidentified rorquals recorded in India may be Blue Whales.

DateDetailsReference
[?] Jawbone from Sordip Bay, Bay of Bengal. De Silva, 1987
1874 One washed ashore at Mangalore, bones in Madras Museum;
Length 14.4 m (48 feet).
Moses, 1947; James and
Soundararajan, 1979;
Gibson-Hill, 1950

Blue Whales have been observed near Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Strandings have also occurred in Sri Lanka, and in the Arabian Gulf. It has been suggested that some individuals seen near Sri Lanka are Pygmy Blue Whales, B. m. brevicauda. Blue Whales have been regularly found off the north-east coast of Sri Lanka. Individually identified animals have been found in this region in successive years. It could be that the Blue Whale occurs here only seasonally. If so, it is not known where it migrates from.

World Distribution: Blues are found in all the seas of the world. They move to warm waters in winter and frequent high latitude seas in summer.

Could Be Confused With: There is a possibility of confusion with Pilot whales Globicephala macrorhyncus and Globicephala melaena. They can be distinguished as follows:

SpeciesHeadBackFinAppearance at sea
Blue Whale Broad U-shaped head Mottled blue back Tiny fin visible long after blow Comparatively low roll;
Often shows flukes before diving.
Fin Whale Narrow V-shaped head Grey back Larger fin visible shortly after blow Rolls high out of water;
Seldom shows flukes before diving.

In the case of Blue Whales, the fluke exposure is fleeting unlike the high flapping dive of Humpback Whales and Great Sperm Whales, which serves as a useful distinction.

Diagnostic Features: At sea, Broad body, U-shaped head, small dorsal fin. Stranded specimens, The Blue Whale’s baleen plates are all black, relatively short, stiff and coarsely fringed. They number 260 to 400 per row.

Common Name: Omura’s whale

General Description: It is one of the smaller and more streamlined baleen whales with a ‘V’ shaped rostrum and broad flukes having a straight trailing edge. The shape of the dorsal fin is variable but it tends to be high, highly falcate and backswept. There is one prominent rostral ridge (while Bryde’s has three ridges) from the blow-hole till almost the tip of the snout. Accessory ridges may also be present but are not prominent. The body coloration is two-toned, with a darker back and lighter venter. The lower jaw is highly pigmented on the left while the right lower jaw is white, one of the major distinguishing characteristics of the Omura’s. The anterior edges and the inner surfaces of both the flippers are white. Ventrally the flukes are white with black margins. Pale irregular chevrons are present anterior to the dorsal fin on both the sides, the one on the right being more prominent. The right side also has a conspicuous blaze with 2-3 stripes bisecting it that runs over the eye and goes up till the back. There are 80-90 ventral grooves that extend till behind the umbilicus.

omura1Omura's whale sighted for the first time in India, in the Andaman Islands  @ Akshay Malavi

Size: Adults - Females of Omura’s whales grow slightly larger than the males and are known to reach lengths of upto 12m. Calves - 3.5-4m long. Weight - Tentatively upto 20,000kgs.

omura2Omura's whale sighted for the first time in India, in the Andaman Islands  @ Akshay Malavi

Appearance At Sea: A study of the species, off Madagascar, reported sightings of the whale mostly as singletons or in pairs. Loose aggregations although rare, were also documented from the same area. The small size of the species usually makes it possible to view both, blowhole and the dorsal fin when the whale surfaces. This species is not known to lift their flukes during a dive. The Omura’s whale was described as a new species only as recently as 2003, prior to which, the existing specimens were grouped as a ‘pygmy’ form of the Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera edeni). Hence, much still needs to be learnt about the ecology and life-history of the species.

Found In: This species has been observed to prefer the shallow shelf habitats in the depth range of 4-202m, although it is suggested that they may be inhabiting deeper waters as well.

DateDetailsReference
5 May 2015 Observed in the coastal waters of South Andaman Island off of Port Blair. Malawi Akshay, Game fisher
2014 An individual beached in Car Nicobar Island. Sitaram S., Fisherman.

The species distribution until recently was thought to be restricted to the eastern Indian ocean and western Pacific but presence of a population to the north-west of Madagascar might indicate a more extensive range. Sightings from southern Sri Lanka and Andaman and Nicobar islands in 2017 establish its presence in the northern Indian Ocean. A single stranded animal was reported from Qeshm Island, Iran.

World Distribution: From the limited known records of the species, the Omura’s whale has a distribution in the tropical waters of the eastern Pacific and the Indian ocean.

Could Be Confused With: The Omura’s whale is most likely to be confused with the Brydes whale, Balaenoptera edeni and young Fin whales Balaenoptera physalus, but they can be distinguished as follows:

SpeciesSizeRidgesFinColorationSubmerging
Omura’s whale 12m One prominent ridge Highly falcate, rising at a steep angle and swept back Asymmetrical coloration on lower jaw with a white right lower jaw.
Chevrons, anterior to the dorsal fin (Right side more prominent).
Blaze present on right side.
Not known to fluke up
Bryde’s whale 16.5m Three ridges on head Variable, steep rise, pointed and often notched. White throat.
Blaze absent.
Rolls over with arched tailstock
Fin whale (not reported from Indian waters) 27m One ridge on head Falcate but rising at a shallow angle.
Ridge present between dorsal fin and flukes.
Asymmetrical coloration on the lower jaw.
Multiple chevrons on back.
Not known to fluke up.

Diagnostic Features: The shape of the fin, single ridge, white right lower jaw and the various colouration patterns as a whole are required for the identification of the species as Omura’s whale.

Stranded specimen: 180-210 short and broad baleen plates are present, which is the lowest number amongst all baleen whales. They are yellowish white at the front, black in the rear, with the middle ones being of an intermediate tone.

Common Name: Bryde's Whale

Bryde's Whale
brydethumbBrydes whale size.svg

Size comparison against an average human

Conservation Status
brydes Status iucn2.3 blank.svg

Data Deficient (IUCN 2.3)

Scientific Classification
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Subclass Eutheria
Order Cetacea
Suborder Mysticeti
Family Balaenopteridae
Genus Balaenoptera
Species B. brydei
B. edeni
Binomial Name
Balaenoptera brydei
(Olsen, 1913)
Balaenoptera edeni
(Anderson, 1879)

brydes range map

Bryde's Whale range.

Source: Wikipedia

General Description: Bryde’s Whales (pronounced brood-ess) resemble Sei Whales B. borealis closely. The heads of the two species are similar in profile and general appearance at a distance. Most Bryde's Whales have three prominent ridges on the head ahead of the blowholes, one medial, and one on each side from the area adjacent to the blowholes towards the tip of the snout. When present, the three ridges are diagnostic of the species.

The dorsal fin is up to 46 cm tall, sickle-shaped and pointed. It is located about one-third of the body length forward from the tail fluke notch.

Bryde’s Whales are generally dark grey above. The throat and chin have some white. Some individuals have regions of light grey on each side, forward from the dorsal fin.

Bryde’s Whales are also known as Tropical Whales.

bryde

Size: Adults, Males grow to a length of 14 m, and females to 15.6 m. The weight is about 17 tons. Two forms exist in some areas, one coastal and one offshore. The offshore form is apparently slightly larger. Calves at birth, 4m long.

Appearance At Sea: Bryde’s Whales often approach vessels at sea, permitting close observation, like Minke Whales. They often turn on to their sides when feeding. Bryde’s Whales are usually found in groups of 5–6 animals.

The movements of this whale are said to be fishlike and jerky. The Sei Whale, with which it is confusable, normally moves sedately.

Bryde’s Whales surface to breathe by rising steeply such that the head is exposed, and then roll over so that a long expanse of the back is visible. The spout of the Tropical Whale is a typical tall thin rorqual blow, around 4m high.

Found In: Both the coastal and the offshore forms prefer warm water above 20°C. The inshore form is resident whilst the offshore form is migratory. Bryde’s Whales feed mainly on schooling fish, together with planktonic crustacea.

DateDetailsReference
[?] Recorded from the Bay of Bengal by Blanford. De Silva, 1987
2 July 1979 A 13m specimen washed ashore at Beypore, Calicut. Lal Mohan, 1992
14 April 1982 Seven of these whales seen on a cruise from Madras to Trincomalee. Leatherwood, 1984
20 February 1983 A 13.52 m long carcass found on an islet near Dhanushkodi Island in the Gulf of Mannar. Lal Mohan, 1992
14 November 2000 A 12 m long animal stranded near Point Calimere. Sathasivam, 2001

Individual Bryde’s Whales seen at sea off Sri Lanka have been re-sighted after a period of two years, leading to the suggestion that they may be resident in the area or annual visitors there. Sightings of the species have been made in the southern Arabian Sea, southern Bay of Bengal, and near Djibouti and Somalia. Strandings are known from Pakistan and Iraq.

bryde1

World Distribution: Bryde’s Whale is found in tropical and subtropical waters of all seas.

Could Be Confused With: There is a possibility of confusion with the Sei Whale Balaenoptera borealis. The two species can be distinguished as follows:

SpeciesRidgesFinSurfacingBlowSubmergingColourationResponse to ShipsMovement
Bryde's Whale Three ridges on head Small, sharply pointed, sharply pointed, often notched Surfaces erratically 4m blow Rolls over with arched tailstock White throat often visible Often approaches ships More jerky, fishlike movement
Sei Whale Single head ridge Large, less pointed, more sloping Breathes regularly 3m blow Sinks quietly below surface Dark, shiny appearance Never approaches ships Normally sedate movement

Diagnostic Features: At sea, Three ridges on head, small sharply pointed fin, white throat.

Stranded Specimens: The baleen plates number 250 to 370 and are slate-grey. They are 42 cm long and 24 cm wide. The bristles on the plates are usually light grey, sometimes fine and white, sometimes black.