Baleen is not bone, but is composed of keratin, the same substance as hair, horn, claws and nails. Whales use these combs for filter feeding. Three species of whales featuring baleen frequent our waters and are seen regularily on our whale watching boat tours in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada on Vancouver Island: gray whales, humpback whales and minke whales. Blue, Sei & Fin Whales are extremely rare here. Refer to our Free Marine Mammal Guide
Gray Whales (Eschrichtius robustus)
The longest migration of any mammal in the world.
Gray whales migrate from the Baja Peninsula in Mexico to Alaska in the spring & return to the Baja in the winter.
Some gray whales are resident in local waters in the Pacific Northwest. While there is a healthy population in the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean population is extinct having been hunted for centuries by Europeans.
In 1994 gray whales were removed from the US Endangered Species List with a population of over 20,000.
Gray whales are “Benthic feeders”, meaning they feed on the bottom of the ocean floor.
They are slow moving animals, rather like grazing cattle.
Gray whales do not have a dorsal fin but rather a series of 6-12 “knuckles” along the dorsal ridge.
Adults may weigh up to 35 tonnes (77,000 lbs.) and reach a maximum length of 14 m (40 ft); newborn calves are about 5 m (15 ft) long.
Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae)
Has a small curved dorsal fin on a prominent hump on its back, however is called “humpback” due to the humping action to it’s back when it dives underwater.
Latin name means “giant wings”, refers to their large front flippers that reach a length of 4m (15ft) one-third of its entire body length.
dark grey to black on top side, with a much lighter mottled black and white on its underside. This color pattern extends to the fluke.