What Color Are Whales?

When it comes to figuring out what color a whale is it is important to understand that there are about 80 – 90 different species of whale, dolphin and porpoise that have been recorded so for and depending on the whales species these marine mammals can vary widely in terms of color, size and shape.

Most whales tend to be various shades of light to dark grey, blue and black, which may lighten or darken as the whale ages.

Some whale species may also appear to be a brownish color while the beluga whale is born white.

If you include toothed whales such as the amazon river dolphin (all species of dolphin belong to the toothed whale family) then the color palette may also include yellow and pink.

On rare occasions an all white (albino) whale may also be spotted, but this type of birth is very uncommon and sightings of these whales are rare.

It is also important to clarify that the beluga whale is different from an albino whale in the fact that these whales are naturally white where as an albino whale (such as the previously recorded albino killer whale and albino humpback whale) are normally black and white or gray, but were born white due to a rare disease that eliminated their pigmentation.

Some whales may even be named (partially) after their color, such as the blue whale, gray whale or pink river dolphin.

The blue whale (the largest animal in existence) for example is a bluish – gray color, but appears to be purely blue when it is submerged underneath the water.

The gray whale is a dark grayish slate color with white spots covering parts of its body.

Killer whales have black backs with a white chest and white spots behind their eyes. The white chest of these marine mammals is believed to resemble the color of the sun and the sky when looked at from above in order to camouflage them as they move in to attack their prey.

Beluga whales are born with a dark grey to brownish coloring which lightens to white as they grow older and reach maturity.

As you can see there is a great variety of colors and shades among different species of whale.

Lastly, some whale species may also be born with or develop white or gray spots as they grow older and some whales may show white or light-colored scaring from fights they’ve had with other whales or predators such as sharks.

Note: Migaloo, an all white albino whale is currently found swimming in Australian waters. Migaloo is the only documented case of a white humpback whale and is believed to be the only albino humpback in existence.

Cetaceans – Whales, dolphins and porpoises

As a species whales, dolphins and porpoises collectively make up the cetacean family.

These marine mammals are are divided into one of two suborders referred to as baleen whale and toothed whale suborders based on their physical features.

The baleen whale suborder is made up of exclusively of large whales and are sometimes referred to as the true or great whales.

What makes the baleen whale suborder so unique is that all of these whales are born with baleen plates and bristles instead of teeth.

The baleen bristles that these whales possess allow them to filter their food from the water by allowing water to pass through the bristles while keeping their prey trapped in their bristles.

Toothed whales on the other hand are born with teeth rather than baleen bristles and the toothed whale suborder includes all species of dolphin and porpoise.

Because these marine mammals possess teeth they are able to use their teeth to grab and bite their prey and may also use their teeth to show aggression or dominance towards other marine mammals.

While all toothed whales have teeth not all species use their teeth to consume prey and some whales that have lost their teeth have shown that they are still capable of capturing food without any difficulty.

How color affects these marine mammals

When it comes to the color of these two suborders baleen whales are usually various shades of gray, black, grayish blue, brown and white, and while the toothed whale suborder also possess these colors they can also be seen in shades of pink, deep blue and cream depending on their species.

Both the baleen whale and toothed whale suborders have also been known to give birth to albino babies, however this is extremely rare and only a few known cases exists regarding albino cetaceans.

However regardless of the whales suborder some species may have light or dark spots/patches located on various parts of their body or they may be counter shaded with a light underbody and dark upper body.

Cetaceans belonging to the same species may also vary greatly in terms of their shade and some whales, dolphins or porpoises may be significantly lighter/darker than others despite being part of the same species.

Part of the reason for variations in skin color among those of the same species has to do with their environment, the amount of exposed light they receive and the history of their families exposure to sunlight.

For example amazon river dolphins may vary in shades of light/dark pink based on how murky the water around the is.

The darker the water the less sunlight their body receives and the more their skin tone is affected by the lack of sunlight.

For some whales the color of their skin is believed to play a large role in helping them blend in with three environment so that they can either avoid attacks from predators or sneak up to prey without being spotted.

This is sometimes observed among species with light colored bodies and dark upper bodies.

Their light underbody helps them blend in with the sunlight shinning through the water when traveling near the surface when viewed from below while their dark upper body helps them blend in with the dark deep waters they travel in when observed from above.