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Finback Whales

Balaenoptera physalus

The Fin whale is the second largest animal after the Blue Whale. It can grow to a length of 26m (85ft) and weigh 30-80 tonnes but on the average it is much smaller. The Fin whale is called a "rorqual" a Norwegian word for "furrow" and refers to the pleated grooves running from its chin to its navel. The throat grooves, in addition to streamlining the shape of the whale, allow the throat area (cavum vent-rale) to expand tremendously during feeding. This allows the taking in of tonnes of food-laden water which is then discarded through their baleen plates leaving the fish or krill for swallowing. This efficient system enables the largest animals on earth to feed on some of the smallest.

The head of the Fin whale is flattish and can be between one-fifth and one-quarter of the total body length. A distinctly ridged tailstock gave rise to the whaler's name 'razorback'. On some animals the white of the right side can continue onto the upper lip and to the side of the neck giving it a characteristic asymmetrical appearance. It has twin blowholes with a single longitudinal ridge extending from the blowholes to near the tip of the snout. The baleen plates in the mouth of the Fin whale reach a maximum length of 70-90cm (28-35in) in length and a width of 20-30cm (8-12in). The baleen bristles are soft when compared with the Blue whale and vary from yellowish white to greyish white.

Fin whales are most common in the Southern Hemisphere while smaller populations inhabit the North Atlantic and North Pacific. Some populations migrate between warm, low latitude winter mating grounds and cooler, high latitude summer feeding grounds though their movements are less predictable than other large whales. Some lower latitude populations, such as in the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez) and Mexico seem to be resident all year round. In these areas they can be found in offshore waters but may be seen close to the shore where the water is deep. The Fin whale is the only rorqual commonly found in the Mediterranean. It is least common in the tropics and will enter polar waters, but not as often as Minke or Blue whales.

Once one of the most abundant of the large whales, the Fin whale was heavily exploited by the whaling industry and its population has been severely depleted. The Fin was the first species to be hunted with the harpoon gun. Pre-whaling estimates indicate that there were 300,000-650,000 Fin whales swimming the oceans of the world. Current figures suggest that a mere 123,000 animals are left. Iceland was the last country to cease the killing of Fin whales. In 1989, Iceland was forced (financially) by worldwide public opposition to forestall it's Fin whale hunt. There are indications that Iceland is planning to kill 200 Fin whales annually as it believes this would be a sustainable harvest.