Whales are large-sized marine mammals belonging to the Cetacea infraorder just like porpoises and dolphins. Being in existence for more than 40 million years, they are the only mammals to survive underwater throughout their lives and cannot exist when brought to land. Since they were one of the most hunted species, they are presently under international law’s protection.

Whale Scientific Classification


Scientific Classification




List of Common Types of Whale Species

There are eight existing families of whales, namely Ziphiidae, Physeteridae, Kogiidae, Eschrichtiidae, Monodontidae, Balaenopteridae, Cetotheriidae, and Balaenidae. The following are the species belonging to the different families.

Blue Whale

Sperm Whale

Humpback Whale

Beluga Whale


Gray Whale

Fin Whale

Bowhead Whale

North Atlantic Right Whale

North Pacific Right Whale


Amazon River Dolphin

Short-finned Pilot Whale

Bryde’s Whale

Southern Right Whale

Sei Whale

False Killer Whale


Spade-toothed Whale

Common Minke Whale

Long-finned Pilot Whale

South Asian River Dolphin

Pygmy Sperm Whale

Omura’s Whale

Northern Bottlenose Whale

Dwarf Sperm Whale

La Plata Dolphin

Pygmy Right Whale

Blainville’s Beaked Whale

Southern Bottlenose Whale

Strap-toothed Whale

Sowerby’s Beaked Whale

Antarctic Minke Whale

Baird’s Beaked Whale

Tropical Bottlenose whale

Ginkgo-toothed Beaked Whale

True’s Beaked Whale

Gervais’ Beaked Whale

Pygmy Beaked Whale

Kogia Pusilla

Eubalaena shinshuensis

Andrews’ Beaked Whale

Perrin’s Beaked Whale

Gray’s Beaked Whale

Shepherd’s Beaked Whale

Hector’s Beaked Whale

Eubalaena Belgica

Akishima Whale

Appearance and Physical Description

Size: They have a wide range of sizes varying from 102.3 inches (2.6 meters) to 1177 inches (29.9 inches).

Whale Size

Weight: Their weight on an average varies between 298 lbs and 190 metric tonnes.        

Color: The color of whales varies from different shades of gray, black, and blue that tend to get darker as they mature in age. Certain species are brown, while the beluga whale is white since birth.

Teeth: Some whale species have teeth while a few do not. The toothed whales have sharp conical teeth with the help of which they grab and catch their prey, before swallowing them. Some even make use of their teeth to tear and break their game.

Baleen whales are the toothless species that have baleen plates inside their mouth with the help of which they can expel the water but retain the plankton and krill that they feed.

Whale Teeth

Limbs: Their forelimbs have been modified into flippers and are similar to paddles. Though most whales lack hind legs, it is present in some of them, resembling a short stub.

Heart: They have a four-chambered heart, with thick arterial walls, the total weight being between 395 pounds and 440 pounds on an average.

Fin: They have four fins, two pectoral, a dorsal and a caudal. While the caudal fin help in to-and-fro movements the pectoral fins serve as stabilizers and rudders.

Tail: The whales have horizontal tails, with the tail fin located in the front.

Whale Tail

Where do they live

They inhabit the major oceans of the world, including the Arctic and Antarctic and can even be found in the tropical waters surrounding the equator.

How long do they live

Their lifespan varies, with species like the Killer whale living for 29 years, whereas the Humpback whale may thrive for over 50 years. The bowhead whale is said to be the oldest living species, living for 200 years on average.

Whale Habitat

What do they eat

Their food habits differ according to their size and the environment in which they live. While some consume fish, squid, shrimp, larvae, krill, crab and plankton, some of them like the killer whale devours bigger games like the sea lion, shark, walrus as well as other whales. 

Behavioral characteristics

  • Most whales display a breaching behavior, where they exhibit an acrobatic movement by pushing their bodies out of the water and splashing back. Though the main reason is unknown, most theories suggest that they do this to communicate or even attract other whales.
  • They slap their tails against water, a technique known as lobtailing, which is assumed to be done to scare other fishes away from their path and also to show their aggression.
  • These mammals display several human behaviors like learning, teaching, cooperating, grieving, and scheming since they have a high level of intelligence.
  • They lift their tails off water for an extended period, though humans hardly observe this behavior of theirs. They may do so because of a whole lot of reasons like catching the wind or sailing through the water.
  • They communicate through a whole lot of sounds underwater; for instance, the humpback whales have a melodic vocalization known as the whale song.


  • The blubbery pleats located on the underside of their throat assists in gulping in increased amounts of water.
  • The blowholes or modified nostrils situated at the back or top part of their head help them to breathe.
  • Because of their streamlined body, they attain flexibility and can travel in water for a long distance.
  • Their ears are specially designed, helping them to hear sounds with ease underwater, especially the low-frequency ones.
  • Their brains are such that one part of it is rested while the other half is always active, preventing them from drowning.
  • Their flippers help to steer through the water with ease and change directions as and when required, while the tail fin assists them in diving across conveniently.
  • Most whales possess flattened eyeballs and cornea, as well as enlarged pupils alongside a tapetum lucidum (tissue layer in the eyes) through which an increased amount of light can pass, hence helping them to have a clear vision of their adjacent areas.
  • Though they lack olfactory lobes, some species have vomeronasal organs (Jacobson’s organ) which help them to smell food in their mouths and sniff out anything unwanted.
Female Whale

Reproduction and Mating

When they get ready to reproduce, the whales generally migrate to places far from their feeding grounds in search of their mates. While the male whales mature in 7 to 10 years, their female counterparts take 5 to 10 years for maturation.

During courtship, conflicts arise between males in pursuit of the females, with the strongest emerging victorious. The whale songs are common during the mating period, mostly emitted by the males. However, if one of the singing males come in contact with the other, it could result in bouts of aggression.

The gestation period of females is somewhere between 10 and 16 months though it varies from one species to the other. Since the babies are born in the water, the delivery is arranged in such a way that the tail comes out first, so that the young ones would not drown in the process.

Since they are mammals, the whales possess mammary glands through which a milk-like paste is produced for feeding the calves. The paste has a thick consistency and is high in fat, helping in the development of the blubber.

The female whales are known to give birth to one calf in a span of one and six years, and twins are rare. The females take the responsibility of the young ones while the males have no role in raising their offsprings.


As whaling has increased over the years, its population has been under threat since 1946. The International Whaling Commission has implemented a moratorium for every country, though the aboriginal communities were excluded until 2004. According to the IWC, two sanctuaries, the Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary, and the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary have been designated for this purpose. Out of the 86 species of the cetacean infra order, recognized by the IUCN as of 2013, 40 of them are whales. Six species are ranked as Critically Endangered, the North Grey whale being one of them. The North Atlantic right whale is a species on the verge of extinction, with only 450 of them remaining.

Whale Image


1. What is a group of whales called?

A gam, school or pod.

2. Is whale a fish?

No, they are mammals and warm-blooded unlike fish

3. What is a baby whale called?

A calf

4. Why are whales called mammals?

Because they have für, birth their young ones, breathe air and milk their calves.

5. Are whales carnivores?

Yes, as they eat the meat of squid, octopus, and fish.

6. Are dolphins whales?

Though both belong to the same family, dolphins are not whales.

7. What are male and female whales called?

Males and females are called bulls and cows, respectively.

8. Do whales have real bones?

Yes, made of real calcium.

9. Do they have a backbone?

Yes, long in size, going up from its skull, to its tail.

10. Do whales live in groups?

Yes, and they mostly live and hunt together.

Whale Fish

Interesting Facts

  • Whales have featured in a lot of film and literary works, with Moby Dick by Herman Melville being one of the prominent ones.
  • Whale watching, i.e., observing dolphins and whales in their natural dwelling places, has been a popular kind of tourism activity worldwide, generating yearly revenue of US$2.1 billion.
  • The sperm whale can remain in the water for 90 minutes and appears to be the largest toothed predators.
  • The whale comes from the old English word hwæl translating to a large sea fish.
  • Belugas were the first of the whale species to be kept in captivity as others were either too big, rare or shy.
  • Pakicetus that dwelt about 50 million years back in parts of Pakistan is said to be the first whale. It had the body of a land animal and the head of a whale.