Fin whale

Balaenoptera physalus
Fin whale


Size: max 19-27m

Key features:
- Long body and tall white blow
- Does not raise tail fluke when diving
- On their jaw, the left side is dark grey and the right side is white

The fin whale is the second largest animal on the planet reaching 26m in length. They have a long grey body with a white underbelly. They have asymmetrical colouration on their lower jaw; dark grey on the left side and white on the right side. This is an adaptation that helps their feeding strategy. 
Fin whales are often confused with sei whales as they look very similar to one another. However, fin whales are longer in length and have a smaller fin which is situated further back on its body. Fin whales have a very tall blow which, on a clear day, can be seen all the way on the horizon.


Fin whales are typically seen on their own or in groups of up to 7 individuals, but they can congregate in groups of 100’s in feeding grounds. They are one of the fastest rorqual whales swimming up to 37km per hour. Fin whales can be mistaken for blue whales at a distance, due to the size and shape of their blow. However, they can be distinguished by their dive technique as fin whales do not raise their tail fluke when diving; they are also grey rather than blue in colour.


Fin whales have a global distribution; they stay in subtropical and temperate waters during the summer and tend to move to more tropical areas in the winter. They can be seen in the Bay of Biscay, particularly in the late summer, with peak sightings in August. They are pelagic species but are known to go into shallower waters, as low as 30m in depth. 


Over one million fin whales were killed by commercial whalers between 1935 and 1965 and today only 10% of the original population is left. As well as whaling, other threats which impact all cetaceans are pollution, reduction of prey by over fishing and bycatch.

Sightings Map

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