There are a variety of whale species thriving in Antarctica.
These marine mammals are diverse in terms of both their size and hunting methods.
While there are more species than just those mentioned below, these are some of the more common whales found in arctic waters.
The Orca (killer whales)
Orcas, or Killer Whales, as they are commonly known, are readily identifiable by their unique black and white markings.
They are among the most well-known of the dolphin species (yes, killer whales are dolphins), due in large part to their notoriety in captivity.
Highly intelligent, these toothed whales occupy every sea on earth with the majority of the population in the Antarctic.
Those rows of sharp teeth allow Orcas to be the apex predator in the Antarctic, thus earning the name “killer” whales.
Orcas live in social groups, also known as pods.
Their hunting requires group co-operation and they regularly communicate by sound.
These sounds are specific to each pod and serve as each groups own “dialect.”
With a short dive time of less than thirty minutes they spend as much time near the surface as they do under water.
The Blue Whale
Blue Whales are known for being the largest creatures on the planet.
Full grown blue whales can weigh up to 180 tons and grow to be over 100 ft. long.
A lifespan of 70 – 90 plus years also makes them one of the oldest living species on the planet.
Thought to be blue because of their appearance from above the water, they are actually grayish blue and identifiable by their long scooped mouth and sheer size.
Blue whales are separated into two subspecies, one of which inhabits the Antarctic region.
Furthermore, these species are separated by the northern and southern hemispheres and do not interbreed.
Antarctic Blue Whales spend the bulk of their time-consuming massive amounts of food during feeding season.
They are known as “baleen” whales because their mouths are filled with coarse bristles for feeding, as opposed to having teeth.
During the mating season they migrate to more forgiving waters to mate and birth their calves.
The Sperm Whale
Only the males of the Sperm Whale species inhabit the Antarctic waters, while the females and children tend to stay closer to warmer climate waters.
It is recognizable by its large, bulbous head, which can make up a third of its entire body size.
A toothed whale, it only has teeth on the bottom half of its jaw.
Tiny undeveloped teeth occupy the top half.
Still, the Sperm Whale is an efficient hunter of squid and octopus.
It is also known for being one of the deepest diving whales, capable of reaching depths of up to 7,000 ft. for up to ninety minutes.
This ability is very useful since squid frequently populate at such depths.
The size of the head is thought to be used for diving, threat display and even ramming objects, including rival sperm whales.
The Right Whale
Right whale populations are divided into distinct Northern and Southern populations.
It is the Northern right whale that inhabits the arctic waters.
They are so named because whalers labeled these creatures the “right” whales to catch, being blessed with plentiful amounts of blubber, oil and whalebone.
These attributes made them very attractive to whalers and their populations were nearly decimated during the early whaling days.
Like the Killer whale, their short dive time means they are frequently near the surface.
One of the most identifying marks of this species is the large, rounded head, often called a “bonnet,” and large callous-like adhesion’s that lay home to barnacles and several parasites.
These callosities, as they are called, are often so unique that individual whales can be recognized by their markings.
The Humpback Whale
Humpback Whales derive their name from the way they arch their backs before diving.
These large, slow swimming creatures are easily identifiable by their large flippers and tendency to breach up out of the water.
Various bumps and ridges along the skin also separate this species from Right Whales and Sperm Whales in appearance.
Although, Humpbacks are particularly prone to barnacles, the same as Right whales.
Humpback feeding behavior is also unique among the larger whale species.
They may use their flippers or tail fluke to strike at groups of prey.
Or, working in tandem with other Humpbacks, they will herd prey by a process known as “bubble netting.”
In this process, a few whales will swim underneath the prey in upward spirals while blowing bubbles.
This drives the fish toward the surface allowing other whales to swim up through the circle, getting large mouthfuls of food at once.
The Humpback is also known for its highly complex whale songs.