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.
  • adult males measure 12-14m (48ft), adult females measure 13-15m (50ft).
  • they weigh 22,680-36,287 kg (79,831lbs).
  • they are known for their ‘fluking’ or ‘sounding’, showing of their tails
  • they can be found in all of the world’s oceans, although they generally prefer near shore and near-island habitats for both feeding and breeding.
  • feed on krill, small shrimp-like crustaceans, and various kinds of small fish.
  • each whale eats up to 1361kg (2994lbs) of food a day.
  • they mate during their winter migration to warmer waters off the Hawaiian Islands.

Minke Whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

  • pronounced “minky”
  • distribution is global
  • have the nickname ‘stinky minky’, known for their “bad breath” – you can sometimes smell them before you see them
  • throat is pleated to allow it to expand when feeding (50-70 ventral grooves)
  • feed on bait balls, large quantities of small schooling fish, most commonly herring
  • sometimes lunge feed at the surface
  • cooperatively feed with seals, birds, and other aquatic animals
  • this is the whale that is being hunted by Japan and Norway today (illegally)
  • is the smallest baleen whale – maximum length of 9.5 m (30 ft)
  • weigh up to 10 tonnes or 22,000 pounds.
  • over 40 photo-identified individuals locally that appear to return each summer for feeding.