The enormous cetaceans that we call whales are among the few marine mammals in the world that are majestic and strong. These magnificent creatures may grow to be very long, dive into the ocean’s depths, and swim for thousands of kilometers.
However, do you really understand the many kinds of whales found throughout our oceans?
We’ll introduce you to 21 of the most interesting types of whales in this article. Here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about these amazing seafaring creatures, from the enormous blue whale to the elusive Omura’s whale.
Get ready—it’s going to be a whale of a time!
How Are Whales Classified?
Whales are perhaps the most immediately recognized creatures on Earth. Because of the great diversity of whales that pass through the Earth’s oceans, taxonomists are notorious for having trouble classifying them.
Whales are mammals, as they are now classified in the Animalia, Chordata, and Mammalia classes of the kingdom. Whales belong to the Artiodactyla order, which includes all even-toed ungulates, and are classified as part of Mammalia.
Ungulates? What are ungulates? Ungulates are hoofed creatures, aren’t they? How could a whale be an ungulate?
We understand if your brain just went through these thoughts. When whales don’t have hooves or feet, it’s a little strange to consider them ungulates.
Whales, on the other hand, evolved from even-toed ungulates (such as antelopes, giraffes, and goats) to become the magnificent marine creatures that we know today, according to taxonomists who used genetic research. So, genetically speaking, an alpaca is more similar to a whale than a shark is. Who would have predicted that?
All whales are members of the clade Cetancodonta, which includes Artiodactyla. All cetaceans (whales!) and hippopotamuses are members of this clade. Hippopotamuses and whales appear to be related, so they are all classified as a single clade.
All whales belong to the infraorder Cetacea, which includes all cetaceans, and are members of the Clade Cetancodonta. Whales, dolphins, and porpoises are aquatic mammals that live in the sea.
It’s time to start getting a little complex now.
Odontoceti (toothed whales) and Mysticeti (baleen whales) are the two parvorders that exist beneath the infraorder Cetacea.
Whales are all of the Mysticeti species in the parvorder. Blue whales, humpbacks, and other similar cetaceans with baleen plates for filter feeding are among them. Right, it’s simple enough.
The problem is that when the word “whale” is used in common parlance, it does not apply to all species in the Odontoceti parvorder. Dolphins and porpoises, as well as toothed whales, are members of the Odontoceti order.
As you understand that all dolphins and porpoises are technically whales, but that not all whales are dolphins and porpoises, things get even more dicey. But, as scientists argue about taxonomy, we’ll leave it there.
It’s important to keep in mind that the creatures we call “whales” in the parvorder Odontoceti are mostly found in three families/superfamilies, as is the case with all animal classification:
- The beluga and narwhal belong to the Monodontidae family, which is known as the “Arctic Whales.”
- The sperm whale, pygmy sperm whale, and dwarf sperm whale are three of the world’s surviving Whale species.
- Many of the species in this superfamily look like bigger dolphins with an exceptional capacity to dive to great depths, and are commonly known as beaked whales.
Congratulations if you’ve made it this far. You’ve come a long way. To reminder you that some creatures that appear like whales are actually classified as dolphins, we want to finish our brief examination of whale classification.
A dolphin, for example, is an orca (also known as a killer whale). To be fair, it’s a huge dolphin, but a dolphin nonetheless. Whale species, such as the pilot whale, are also dolphins and are commonly referred to as whales. Alas, it seems that way at this time. A whale taxonomist’s daily life is like this!
Types of Whales FAQs
To some of your most frequently inquired questions about various kinds of whales, here are our responses:
What are the two main types of whales?
Baleen whales and toothed whales are the two basic kinds of whales. Baleen whales, such as the humpback whale, have enormous baleen plates in their mouths that allow them to filter feed on krill and plankton. Teeth, on the other hand, are used for hunting fish and other bigger marine creatures by toothed whales such as the sperm whale.
How many types of whales are there?
In the oceans, there are around 40 different types of whales. Yet, since several creatures that are often referred to as whales might be better categorized as dolphins (a kind of whale), classification is tough.
Is a whale shark a whale or a shark?
A whale shark is a kind of shark, despite its odd name. Like all sharks, it is a fish, not a mammal like whales. Whale sharks, on the other hand, are filter-feeding whales that mostly consume krill, plankton, and other copepods. They are similar to baleen whales.
How old do whales live?
Most whale species have varied lifespans, ranging from 50 to 100 years. The bowhead whale, on the other hand, is thought to be the oldest living whale. The bowhead whale is thought to have a lifespan of more than 200 years, according to researchers.
Can a whale swallow a human?
Because their esophagus isn’t wide enough for a human body, most whales aren’t capable of fully swallowing a human. However, baleen whales have previously caught humans in their mouths and then spit them out. Being swallowed by a whale isn’t exactly the same as having a bad experience, but it’s not pleasant.
21 Different Types of Whales: List and Pictures
We couldn’t possibly list all of the different kinds of whales that swim through our planet’s oceans, so we’ll just mention a few. Yet, here are 21 of the world’s most amazing whale species!
1. Baleen Whales
Baleen whales filter feed on plankton, krill, and copepods using their baleen plates, which are a collection of whales. If you ever get the opportunity to see these whales in the wild, they are among the world’s greatest creatures and a genuine marvel to observe. Here is everything you need to know.
1.1 Bowhead Whale
The bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) is a mid-sized cetacean with one of the world’s longest lifespans. It only lives in the Arctic and subarctic regions. Despite the fact that humans have been hunting bowhead whales for hundreds of years, this species may survive to be over 200 years old if it is allowed to survive out its natural lifespan.
In their home range, bowhead whales have a unique appearance and structure that makes them unmistakable. The bowhead has the biggest mouth of any creature, despite the fact that many whale species have huge lips. Its tongue, which typically weighs about 1 ton (900 kg), can be up to 16 feet (5 m) long.
Despite the fact that the bowhead was nearly hunted to extinction during the height of the global whaling industry, a ban on bowhead hunting in the 1960s gave the species enough time to recover. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has designated the species as being “of little concern” globally.
1.2 Southern Right Whale
The southern right whale (Eubalaena australis), one of the three varieties of right whales, may be found only in seas between 20°S and 60°S. Because of its black body and huge gray callosities on its head, it is virtually similar to the other right whales, but it is distinct from them.
Southern right whales are generally quite active near the surface of the water, despite not being particularly prevalent. They’re also naturally curious about boats and ships, so when they spot them, they’re likely to investigate.
After the decline of the North Atlantic right whale population in the eighteenth century, southern right whales were heavily hunted in the nineteenth century. By the mid-twentieth century, however, the stabbing of southern right whales had been prohibited in many places, and it is now protected. The species’ population has grown to a point where it is now considered endangered.
1.3 North Atlantic Right Whale
The North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) is a cetacean that lives exclusively in the temperate and sub-Arctic seas of the northern Atlantic Ocean. It is the northern cousin of the southern right whale.
The North Atlantic right whale is a sluggish, docile cetacean that spends a lot of time near the surface, similar to other right whales. It’s frequently seen near the shore, and each year, fishing gear entangled with individual North Atlantic right whales.
Commercial whalers nearly drove the North Atlantic right whale to extinction during the eighteenth century. Researchers believe it is now functionally extinct in the eastern North Atlantic, but it is currently protected in many jurisdictions. The North Atlantic right whale is classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
1.4 North Pacific Right Whale
The last of the three right whale species is the North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica). It is mostly found in the near-coastal waters surrounding Alaska, western Russia, and Japan. It only lives in the northern Pacific.
The North Pacific right whale is rarely seen by boats because of its vast expanse and small population numbers. This makes it difficult for scientists to follow and study North Pacific right whales.
Before the species was protected in the 1960s, commercial whaling of the North Pacific right whale began in the 1830s, and it almost drove the species extinct. Oil spills, fishing gear entanglements, illegal whaling, and hybridization with bowhead whales are the main threats now. The IUCN has classified the species as “endangered.”
1.5 Pygmy Right Whale
The pygmy right whale (Caperea marginata) is a separate species that belongs to the Neobalaenidae family, despite having a similar name to other right whales. Because of a lack of confirmed sightings, it was thought to be extinct until 2012.
The Southern Ocean is home to the pygmy right whale. In scientific terms, it was originally described.
After the 19th century trips of HMS Erebus and Terror, literature was written by James Clark Ross. With fewer than 25 confirmed sightings, it is one of the world’s least studied cetaceans.
The pygmy right whale is the tiniest of the known baleen whales, with a calculated length of about 20 feet (6.1 m). It is currently classified as a species of least concern by the IUCN, although this may be due to a lack of information rather than anything else.
1.5 Common Minke Whale
The common minke (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) is a little baleen whale that can be found in almost all of the world’s oceans. It is sometimes known as the northern minke whale. Only the dwarf subspecies is regularly seen in the Southern Ocean, although there are numerous common minke subspecies.
One of the smallest Baleen Whale species is the common minke. Because of its tiny curved dorsal fin, it’s fairly simple to identify across its range. In addition, before diving, the species performs a distinct surfacing routine of bringing its pointed rostrum to the surface and arching its back. Before a deep dive, most minkes take several breaths in a row.
The IUCN has designated the common minke as a least-concern species across the world. Since being heavily hunted during the commercial whaling era in the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, it is protected in many areas.
1.6 Southern Minke Whale
The southern minke (Balaenoptera bonaerensis) is somewhat larger than the common minke and is more commonly known as the Antarctic minke whale. The Antarctic minke is exclusively found in the southern hemisphere and is substantially more common in its range than its dwarf subspecies of common minke.
The southern minke was not heavily hunted by commercial whalers, unlike many other baleen whales. It isn’t as economically viable as other species because of its smaller size and relatively low oil yield. As a consequence, it is rapidly gaining popularity over its northern relative.
The southern minke, on the other hand, is classified as “near threatened” by the IUCN. Overfishing of krill in its range and climate change are said to be the species’ main threats, according to the organization.
1.7 Gray Whale
The gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) is a huge cetacean that may reach a weight of up to 45 tons (40,820 kg) and is only found in tiny near-coastal regions around the globe. The gray whale was originally more widely distributed, but it was driven to extinction in Europe during the sixth century and in the eastern Atlantic during the eighteenth century.
The gray whale’s lengthy seasonal migratory path is one of its most unusual features. Each gray whale population migrates to distinct places, with the eastern Pacific variety migrating 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) from the Bering and Chukchi Seas to the Gulf of California each winter season. This is thought to be the world’s longest annual migration of any species.
The species’ greatest danger is probably human commercial whaling, despite the fact that orcas are known to hunt gray whales. The IUCN has now classified the species as being of least concern, since it is no longer commercially hunted on a large scale.
1.8 Humpback Whale
The humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae) is one of just a few big cetaceans that may be found in practically all of Earth’s oceans, and it is arguably the most well-known whale species in the planet. From tropical areas to the frigid waters of the polar regions, it can be found everywhere.
Acrobatic surfacing activities and outstanding communicative abilities are perhaps the best-known characteristics of humpback whales. Male humpbacks create long tracks that may take 20 minutes to complete at a time. Female humpbacks also vocalize, although they don’t make the same complex sounds. These songs are thought to be particular to various groups of humpbacks, according to researchers.
Commercial whalers targeted humpbacks, like other baleen whales, for centuries until the 1960s. Humpbacks were nearly wiped off the face of the earth during the commercial whaling era. Humpbacks are estimated to have been killed in over 90% of the world’s population. The species, on the other hand, has recovered remarkably and is now considered low risk.
1.9 Blue Whale
The blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), the Earth’s biggest known animal, is a truly magnificent cetacean. It may grow to be about 98 feet (29.9 meters) long and weigh up to 165 tons (150,000 kilograms).
Blue whales eat tiny creatures like krill, despite being the world’s largest animal. In a single day, blue whales may consumes up to 8,000 pounds (3,600 kg) of krill!
Almost all of the world’s oceans are thought to be home to blue whales. They were formerly quite common, but during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, they were almost wiped off. The blue whale is currently listed as endangered by the IUCN, and it remains one of the least-studied baleen whales.
1.10 Fin Whale
The fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) is the world’s second-longest cetacean, and is often known as the finback whale. It might grow to be up to 90 feet (27 meters) long and weigh up to 80 tons (72,500 kg).
Nearly every ocean in the world has fin whales. When contrasted to other huge whales, however, they are relatively simple to recognize due to their tall spout and large dorsal fin. Nonetheless, from a distance, it is occasionally difficult to tell the difference between blue and sei whales.
Whalers hunted fin whales in the same way that they hunted blue whales, and with the development of the explosive harpoon, they became even more plentiful. Around 50% of all fin whales were killed for their blubber, baleen, and oil during the peak of the commercial whaling industry. With an growing population, the species has been designated as endangered.
1.11 Omura’s Whale
One of the least-studied large baleen whales is the Omura’s whale (Balaenoptera omurai). It’s also called the little or pygmy form of the Bryde’s whale, but it was once thought to be a smaller or pygmy version of itself.
The whales of Omura are supposed to exist in the Indo-Pacific Ocean, although a second population may exist in the Atlantic as well. In the past, a number of verified Omura’s whale sightings have been recorded, although no clear picture of the species’ true range has emerged.
Throughout the last few millennia, it’s likely that the Omura’s whale was hunted for food in Oceania, but it was never a major commercial whaling target. Due to a paucity of data on its population dynamics, the IUCN presently categorizes the species as “data deficient.”
1.12 Eden’s Whale
The disputed baleen whale species Eden’s whales (Balaenoptera edeni) belongs to the Bryde’s whale complex. Physical similarities link the three species in the Bryde’s whale complex (Rice’s, Eden’s, and Bryde’s whales), but more research is required to determine how they’re related.
Eden’s whales are thought to be mostly found in the western Pacific, with the Bay of Bengal, the Gulf of Martaban, and the East China Sea as their preferred habitats. The Bryde’s whale complex includes the Eden’s whale, also known as the Sittang whale. It is thought to be the smallest of the species.
The Eden’s whale is listed as a species of low concern by the IUCN, but little is known about its global population. Collisions with ships, Pollution, and the depleting of its food supply due to commercial krill fishing are among the species’ major threats.
1.13 Rice’s Whale
One of the most well-studied members of the Bryde’s whale complex is the Rice’s whale (Balaenoptera ricei). It was once thought to be a distinct species from Bryde’s whale, based on genetic analyses. New genetic investigations now show that it is a subpopulation of Bryde’s whale.
The Rice’s whale, unlike most other Bryde’s whales, spends the majority of its time in the Gulf of Mexico. It can be found mostly in Florida’s continental slope, which is located along the northern Gulf coast.
The IUCN hasn’t classified the Rice’s whale, which was designated as a distinct species in 2021. The US Endangered Species Act, however, classifies it as endangered, and it is protected in its range. Vessel collisions, pollution, and acoustic disturbances from shipping and oil exploration are the primary threats to the species.
1.14 Sei Whale
The sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis) is the planet’s third-largest cetacean, found mostly offshore in regions of deep water. It spends the majority of its time in temperate and subtropical regions, avoiding both polar and tropical waters. The sei whale, on the other hand, is thought to be able to live nearly anywhere on Earth.
One of the quickest cetaceans is sei whales. When traveling short distances, they may travel at speeds of over 31 mph (50 km/h). With an typical weight of up to 50 tons (45,400 kg), the sei whale is also a truly enormous marine mammal.
During the heyday of commercial whaling, the sei whale was a popular target due to its large size. As a consequence, the species’ population is predicted to have dwindled by one-third over the sixteenth century. With an rising population, it is now classified as endangered.
1.15 Common Bryde’s Whale
The largest cetacean in the Bryde’s whale species complex is the common Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera brydei). Whether the common Bryde’s whale is a separate species or a subspecies that is closely related to the Eden’s whale is a point of contention among taxonomists.
The Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans’ warmer temperate and tropical seas are home to these whales. Pelagic whales, such as the common Bryde’s whale, prefer to dwell in the open ocean.
The common Bryde’s whale population trends are relatively poorly understood. Taxonomists are unable to classify this species, which is partly the reason for this. Vessel collisions on the open ocean are a major threat to the Bryde’s whale, which is known to be vulnerable to disturbances.
2. Toothed Whales
The toothed whales are a kind of whale that features teeth rather than baleen plates, as the name suggests. Toothed whales, also known as odontocetes, are members of the cetacean parvorder that includes porpoises and dolphins.
The parvorder Odontoceti contains more than 70 species, the majority of which are different types of dolphins and porpoises. Orcas, for example, are better classified as dolphins than whales in this parvorder.
We’ll concentrate on six of the toothed whales that taxonomists usually classify as genuine whales in order to keep things interesting and exciting. Without further ado, here are a few of the most interesting toothed whales in our oceans.
2.1 Sperm Whale
The sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) is easily the biggest of the toothed whales. It is the world’s biggest toothed predator and the sole living member of its genus.
Herman Melville’s book Moby-Dick helped make sperm whales famous in popular culture. When Captain Ahab sailed on the whaling ship Pequod, a big white sperm whale named Moby Dick bit off his leg in the book.
The term “sperm whale” is an abbreviated version of the genuine term “spermaceti whale,” which refers to a sperm whale’s melon (forehead) containing waxy, semi-liquid material. This chemical is thought to aid in the formation of clicking noises for talking and echolocation.
Throughout the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, commercial whalers focused on this spermaceti as their main target. Candles and other similar items were made from it. The teeth of sperm whales, which are ivory-like in appearance, were also sought after by whalers. The sperm whale, on the other hand, has a low population and is classified as vulnerable due to hunting.
The narwhal (Monodon monoceros) is one of the most instantly identifiable cetaceans on the planet, and is also known as the unicorn of the sea. A single huge tusk-like protrusion from the front of male narwhals’ heads may grow to be around 10 feet (3.1 meters) long, with a few female narwhals having a little smaller version. Narwhals may occasionally produce two tusks.
The narwhal’s canine tooth, not a horn, is what this tusk is. It grows in a helical spiral throughout the whale’s life, projecting outward from the left side of the narwhal’s upper jaw. In reality, narwhal tusks are packed with billions of nerve receptors that give narwhals sensory data about their surroundings, according to current study.
The Inuit and other Indigenous peoples have hunted narwhals for thousands of years in Arctic waters, where they are exclusively found. For cultural and subsistence reasons, the Inuit are permitted to hunt narwhal legally. Although climate change and changing sea ice conditions pose significant dangers, the IUCN classifies the species as “least concern.”
2.3 Southern Bottlenose Whale
The Antarctic cetacean the southern bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon planifrons) is little understood. It is thought to be most common in the coldest parts of the Southern Ocean, where it lives in deep ocean waters. The cetacean is thought to be able to dive for up to 40 minutes at a time, which is a considerable amount of time.
The little “beak” that we see on many dolphins is present on southern bottlenose whales, a kind of beaked whale. The southern bottlenose is assumed to be predominantly white and gray in hue, with the range of coloration and appearance variations still being unknown, according to researchers.
The southern bottlenose whale is currently classified as a species of low concern by the IUCN. The species’ population, however, is unknown, and little is known about the dangers it faces.
The beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) is one of the most immediately identifiable cetaceans on the planet. It’s also known as the white whale. It has a huge melon-shaped head and an entirely white body. As a result, when compared to other cetaceans of similar size, such as the narwhal, which is the beluga’s closest extant relative, it’s simple to tell them apart.
Because of its high-pitched cries, the beluga is also known as the sea canary. In dark waters, these sounds are used for echolocation and communication. Because the melon functions as an acoustic lens that may help project its cries over greater distances, a beluga’s melon is actually an critical part of its communication capabilities.
The IUCN has classified belugas as being of low concern at the moment. Climate change, for example, poses a danger to them because it threatens the species’ Arctic habitat. Human noise and ocean pollution appear to be very harmful to Belugas.
2.5 Baird’s Beaked Whale
The Baird’s beaked whale (Berardius bairdii) is a well-studied beaked whale species. It prefers deep water ecosystems in the northern Pacific Ocean.
Due to their comparable features, however, there is some contention regarding whether Baird’s beaked whales and Arnoux’s beaked whales are the same species. The Baird’s whale’s range would encompass much of the Southern Ocean if they are the same species.
The huge size and timidity of Baird’s beaked whales have made them well-known. They have deeper colorations than other beaked whales, although more study is required to understand the species’ genuine range of appearances. In the United States, the species is protected, however the IUCN has classified it as a “species of least concern.”
2.6 Cuvier’s Beaked Whale
Finally, there’s the Ziphius cavirostris Cuvier’s beaked whale. The most widely distributed beak whale on the planet is thought to be the Cuvier’s beaked whale. Except for the colder polar waters, it may be found in practically every ocean on Earth.
The beak of Cuvier’s beaked whales is tiny, and the body of these whales is cigar-shaped. Males sometimes have two little tusks in the corners of their lower jaw that appear to serve no function.
Cuvier’s beaked whales are exceptional underwater divers, capable of spending hours at a time. Other beaked whales are similar to them. A whale was finally identified using a tag that recorded a depth of over 9,800 feet (2,900 meters), making it one of the deepest dives ever recorded by an animal.