Baleen is not bone, but is composed of keratin: the same substance as hair, horns, claws and nails. Whales use these combs for filter feeding. Three species of whales featuring baleen frequent our waters and are seen regularly on our whale watching boat tours in Victoria, British Columbia: gray whales, humpback whales and minke whales. blue, sei and 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 and 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 pounds) and reach a maximum length of 14 metres (40 feet); newborn calves are about 5 metres (15 feet) long

Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae)

  • Have a small curved dorsal fin on a prominent hump on its back, however is called “humpback” due to the arch to its back when it dives underwater
  • Latin name means “giant wings”, which refers to their large front flippers that reach a length of 4 metres (15 feet) – 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 12–14 metres (48 feet); adult females measure 13–15 metres (50 feet)
  • They weigh 22,680–36,287 kilograms (79,831 pounds)
  • They are known for ‘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
  • Krill, small shrimp-like crustaceans, and various kinds of small fish are all on a humpback’s menu
  • Each whale eats up to 1361 kilograms (2994 pounds) of food a day.
  • They mate during their winter migration to warmer waters, off the Hawaiian Islands

Minke Whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

  • Pronounced like minky
  • Distribution is global
  • Have the nickname ‘stinky minky’. They’re 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)
  • They are the smallest baleen whale – maximum length of 9.5 metres (30 feet)
  • Weigh up to 10 tonnes or 22,000 pounds.
  • Over 40 photo-identified individuals locally that appear to return each summer for feeding