Feb. 19 is World Whale Day! To celebrate, we’ve put together a list of 10 intriguing things about whales that you may—or may not—know. So go ahead…grab a coffee, claim that comfy spot on the couch, and test your Whale IQ!

A killer whale spyhops by sticking its head out of the water.
Killer whale / Selena Rhodes Scofield Photography, Eagle Wing Tours

1. How many types of whale are there?

All whales, dolphins and porpoises are known as cetaceans. Around the world, there are 90 species of cetacean—from tiny porpoises to the colossal blue whale! We’re lucky to regularly see six cetacean species in the Salish Sea!

2. What is the biggest type of whale?

The blue whale is the biggest animal ever known, bigger than the dinosaurs! Blue whales in Antarctica historically reached 30 metres or more and almost 182,000 kg. That’s the length of a Boeing 737 jet! We don’t see blue whales in the Salish Sea, but occasionally see their slightly smaller cousins—fin whales! These behemoths can reach almost 25 metres!

A fin whale swims in the Salish Sea in 2016. Fin whales are the second-largest of all whales.
Fin whale in the Salish Sea / Shorelines Photography, Eagle Wing Tours

3. What’s the smallest type of whale?

The smallest cetaceans are some of the coastal porpoises, such as the critically endangered vaquita, found only in Mexico’s Gulf of California. It tops out at 1.5 metres and weighs no more than 54 kg!

4. What’s the fastest type of whale?

Some dolphins and porpoises can swim as fast as 40 km/h. Killer whales can swim almost 50 km/h in short bursts. And Dall’s porpoises can reach 55 km/h!

A Dall's porpoise creates a rooster-tail of spray as it speed-swims near our boat.
Dall’s porpoise / Eagle Wing Tours photo

5. Which whale is the deepest diver?

The oceanic Cuvier’s beaked whale can dive to 3,000 metres (roughly 32 football field lengths!) and stay down for almost four hours. Think about that the next time you watch a full-length movie!

6. How do whales sleep?

Whales need to think about every breath they take. To sleep, they shut half their brain down at a time while the other half regulates breathing and stays aware of their surroundings. They can even alternate which side of their brain is sleeping!

A humpback whale exhaling, showing a big burst of spray
Humpback whales / Showtime Photography, Eagle Wing Tours

7. What type of whale lives the longest?

The longevity champ is the Arctic-dwelling bowhead whale, which can live to age 200 or more. They’re the longest-living mammal on the planet!

8. Do all whales have teeth?

Toothed whales such as killer whales have teeth. But the larger whales such as humpbacks have none! To filter their tiny food from the water, they use long bristly baleen plates that hang down from the roof of their mouth. Baleen is made of keratin, just like our fingernails!

A feeding humpback whale lunges to the surface with its mouth open, showing its baleen.
Humpback whale showing baleen / Sierra Hamilton Photography, Eagle Wing Tours

9. How do whales stay warm?

Their secret weapon is blubber, a layer of fat under the skin. Blubber thickness can range from 3-4 inches in a killer whale, to 6 inches in a humpback, to 20 inches in the Arctic-dwelling bowhead whale!

10. Do all whales migrate?

Some do, some don’t. The epic migrators are the baleen whales, which travel north-south routes between summer feeding grounds and winter breeding grounds. Grey whales have the longest migration of any mammal. Some individuals do round trips of more than 20,000 km every year!

A grey whale raises its flukes as it begins a dive.
Grey whale / Tomis Filipovic Photography, Eagle Wing Tours

BONUS QUESTION: How do I help protect whales?

Whales around the world face many threats, almost all of them due to human activity. No matter where you live, anything you do to protect the environment helps protect whales. For example, don’t use pesticides. Don’t leave fishing gear in the environment. Make sustainable seafood choices. Volunteer for a shoreline cleanup. Practice the 5Rs of recycling. Get involved with a marine conservation organization. Raise your voice! Learn more!

Come out and see for yourself!

To book a tour and hopefully meet a whale in person, give us a call or book online!

A humpback whale jumps out of the water in a full breach during a tour with Eagle Wing Tours
Breaching humpback whale / Karac Lindsay Photography, Eagle Wing Tours

Blog written by Eagle Wing Tours naturalist Valerie Shore

Published Feb. 18, 2023