Types Of Whales

As a species whales compose around 90 different animals within the cetacean family.

The cetacean family is made up of three types of marine mammals known as whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Although the term whale can be used to describe dolphins and porpoises it is rarely used when describing these animals in order to prevent confusion among the different species.

Among the cetacean family whales compose around half of the cetaceans while dolphins make up the other half.

Porpoises only make up around 6 of the 90 or so species of marine mammals within the cetacean family.

All cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) fall into one of two sub orders which are referred to as the baleen whale and toothed whale suborders based on their physical characteristics.

All dolphins and porpoises belong to the toothed whale family along with whales that possess teeth while the baleen whale suborder is composed exclusively of large whales that possess baleen plates.

In addition to either possessing teeth or baleen plates there are several characteristics that differentiate the two types of whales including their size, social structure, breathing (number of blowholes), dentition (teeth or baleen plates) and echolocation.

The next part of this article will explore in more detail the differences between the two suborders.

Toothed Whales

Toothed whales as you probably guessed it have teeth which they use for grabbing, biting and/or chewing their prey.

Both the number of teeth these marine mammals possess and the way they use their teeth varies from one species to the next.

Some of the whales/cetaceans that belong to the toothed whale suborder include the killer whale (this species is part of the dolphins family), sperm whale, bottlenose whale and beluga whale among others.

All species of dolphin and porpoise also fall into the toothed whale category.

These type of whales have a single blowhole as compared to the two blowholes found in baleen whales.

The majority of toothed whales (with the exception of the sperm whale) are smaller than their baleen whale relatives, but are known for eating larger prey such as fish, squid, octopus and crustaceans.

A few species such as the killer whale and false killer whale are also known to consume various marine mammals and large animals such as seals, sea lions, walruses, marine birds, whales, dolphins and porpoises among other large animals.

Sperm whales are unique to the toothed whale species as they are known to hunt giant squid that can measure in excess of 30 ft. long.

Note: Colossal squid are believed to measure longer than 40 ft. long when fully grown.

Due to fact that some toothed whales are fairly small when compared to other cetaceans they stand a greater chance of being hunted and attacked by predators such as sharks and killer whales.

Toothed whales tends to have a much larger and more sophisticated social structure when compared to baleen whale species.

Part of the reason these marine mammals form large groups is to protect themselves from potential predators.

Another reason for the groups has to do with the simple fact that many of the toothed whale species are very social.

These marine mammals make sounds using their blowholes and create high pitched clicking and whistling sounds in order to communicate with one another.

Unlike humans however whales are not born with vocal cords and do not need to inhale or exhale to create sound.

They simply squeeze and flex their muscles to create sounds and communicate with one another.

In addition to using sound for communication they also have highly developed echolocation abilities that use sound and echos to help these marine mammals locate food, avoid predators, navigate in the dark and find other objects in the ocean.

Note: Unlike Male baleen whales which tend to be smaller than their female counterparts male toothed whales tend to be larger than the female within their species.

Baleen Whales

Baleen whales aka the great or true whales are the larger of the two suborders and have a number of characteristics that differentiate them from toothed whales.

For starters baleen whales have baleen plates with bristles (which resemble the bristles of a comb) instead of teeth and use their baleen to filter their food in the water.

The method they use to capture their food is known as filter feeding.

Filter feeding works by swimming forward with their mouth open and scooping up prey such as krill, fish and squid into their mouth which get caught and stuck in their baleen bristles.

Just like a fence the bristles are spaced far enough apart to allow water to pass through while being packed close enough together to prevent their prey from escaping.

Once they’ve caught enough prey in their baleen bristles the whale pushes the excess water out of its mouth with its tongue and swallows the food whole.

Due to the fact that they do not possess teeth baleen whales typically eat small prey such as fish, krill and plankton which are easy to swallow and digest.

As stated earlier baleen whales for the most part are larger than their toothed whale relatives.

In fact the blue whale is the largest living animal in the world.

Some of the most popular baleen whales include the gray whale, humpback whale, blue whale, minke whale and bowhead whale.

Unlike toothed whales that possess one blowhole baleen whales have two blowholes to help them breathe.

When it comes to their social structure baleen whales tend to prefer traveling along or in small groups known as pods.

In some cases these pods may gather together and form larger groups during hunting, mating or other social activities and then disperse once they are done.

Communication for baleen whales involves producing loud, deep, low pitched moans and whines that can be heard from miles away.

These loud moans are believed to help baleen whales communicate over long distances and can even be heard deep underwater.

Baleen whales use these sounds to locate other whales or pod members, look for a mating partner and express themselves when they are feeling sad among other things.

Although it was once believed that baleen whales didn’t use echolocation new research suggest that at least some baleen whales may also possess this ability.

While the baleen whale species is loved and adored today by millions of people they used to be hunted extensively during the 17th – 20th centuries.

In the past the humpback, bowhead and right whale (among others) were hunted largely for their oil, blubber and other body parts, which was considered useful for making oil, candle, transmission fluid and many other chemical products.

Here is a list describing some of the things that were made using the parts of whales:

  • Oil – Lamp oil, soap, perfume, candles and cosmetics
  • Food – Cooking oil, margarine and whale meat
  • Clothing – corsets and umbrellas
  • and various other products including tools such as fishing hooks

Due to extensive hunting some whale species have become endangered causing a number of organizations to focus on recovering diminishing whale populations.

Over time the combination of alternative products that do not require the use of whale oil or blubber and growing concerns from animal healthcare organizations led to new laws and policies aimed at monitoring the condition of commercial whaling activities and eventually the act of hunting whales became banned in order to allow certain whale populations time to recover their numbers and begin reproducing new offspring.

Today hunting whales is considered illegal in many countries and hunting them could lead to steep fines and prison time.

Since the end of the whaling era people have found a new way to enjoy whales in a much more appreciative way.

This new activity is known as whale watching.

In some ways whale watching is similar to bird watching with the exception that people go out on boats and travel to locations where they can observe these amazing marine mammals in their own natural habitat.

Thanks to whale watching and organizations aimed at protect the marine mammal species more and more people are becoming aware of their situation and are rallying together to protect the whale populations in the hope that these endangered animals can recover from decades of previous whaling activities.

Whether or not some of these endangered animals will fully recover from their depleted stocks is unknown at this time.

Only time can tell whether or not they will thrive and prosper again.

Note: The blue whale is considered the largest known animal on the planet.

At full maturity these large mammals and grow as large as 110 feet and weigh over 150 tons.