Facts about the animal kingdom

Which Are the Largest Whales in the World and How Big Are They?

Nick A. Romero
By Nick A. Romero, Biologist and environmental educator. March 8, 2022
Which Are the Largest Whales in the World and How Big Are They?

Animals come in all shapes, sizes, and species. The Dreadnoughtus was the largest animal ever known to exist. This Tintanosaurus lived 77 million years ago and measured about 85 feet (ca. 27 meters) long. It was the largest animal ever known. Today, the African elephant is the largest land animal, with an average size of 30 ft (ca. 9 m). Whales, however, are the largest creatures in the oceans. In fact, some argue that whales are actually the biggest animals known to exist, but this theory is still being debated.

The following AnimalWised article provides an overview of five of the largest whales in the world, as well as their most important characteristics.

You may also be interested in: The 10 Largest Sharks in the World
  1. Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus)
  2. Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)
  3. Bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus)
  4. Southern right whale (Eubalaena australis)
  5. Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus)

The blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) is undoubtedly the largest whale in the world as well as the largest living mammal. The species is found worldwide in tropical and polar waters, although it is rare in some local marine areas such as the Mediterranean Sea and the Bering Sea.

The Society for Marine Mammalogy's Committee on Taxonomy currently recognizes four subspecies. The blue whale is distinguished by its slate-colored or grayish-blue coloring and some lighter spots on its dorsal area. In the ventral area it is rather yellowish, but this is due to the presence of certain microorganisms that adhere to the skin.

Their main food is krill. Their gestation period is 11 to 12 months. They migrate widely, and their life expectancy is 80-90 years. Although mass hunting of these whales has been banned for years and reportedly the last intentional captures occurred in the early 1970s, they are currently classified as threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

How big is the blue whale?

Some records show that there are blue whales over 30 meters (98.4252 feet) long, but some scientists consider these records unreliable. Females are larger than males and in general their average length is about 27 meters (88.5827 feet), while for males it is 25 meters (82.021 feet). The blue whale weights an average of 100 tons.

If you want to know more about the blue whale and its diet, keep reading this article on dietary habits of the blue whale.

Which Are the Largest Whales in the World and How Big Are They? - Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus)

Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)

The Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) is the second-largest whale in the world. This whale is also known as finback whale or common rorqual and formerly known as herring whale or razorback whale. It is a cetacean belonging to the parvorder of baleen whales.

The whale is distributed throughout the world, mainly in temperate and subtropical waters, although it also has some presence in the tropics and migrates to the poles in summer. The color of the dorsum is grayish brown, while the ventral area is white. The right side of the lower jaw is white or light colored, while the left side is dark. Its body is slender, and the animal can exceed the speed of the fastest steamships on the ocean.

These whales have a gestation period of about 11 months, live to be about 75 years old, and are very social whales with migratory habits. The IUCN has classified them as endangered, but with an increasing population trend. Hunting was one of the main impacts, but it has stopped. However, there are still accidents with boats and entanglements in fishing nets.

What is the size of the fin whale?

The average size of fin whales is about 20 meters (ca. 66 ft), weighing 50 tons or more. Northern specimens tend to be larger than southern ones. There is usually no sexual dimorphism in terms of size, so both males and females reach similar dimensions and weights.

To know more interesting facts about killer whales, do not miss this article on is killer whale a whale?

Which Are the Largest Whales in the World and How Big Are They? - Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)

Bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus)

Within the group of large whales we find the Greenland or Boreal whale (Balaena mysticetus), which we can place third on the list. The only baleen whale endemic to the Arctic and subarctic, it is named for the massive triangular skull it uses for breaking through ice in the Arctic. Its typical color is black, with white spots on the lower jaw.

Like all baleen whales, this animal feeds by filtration, has a gestation period of about 16 months, and has a life expectancy of 60 to 70 years. The IUCN currently classifies this whale species as of Least Concern. The species was hunted extensively centuries ago. Today, the main threats are shipwrecks, oil exploration, and anthropogenic impacts.

What is the size of the bowhead whale?

Females are larger than males, reaching between 16 meters (52.4934 feet) and 18 meters (59.0551 feet), while males are 14 meters (45.9318 feet) to 17 meters (55.7743 feet) long. The weight varies between 75 and 100 tons.

If you want to know more interesting facts about killer whales, then do not miss this article on do killer whales really kill?

Which Are the Largest Whales in the World and How Big Are They? - Bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus)

Southern right whale (Eubalaena australis)

Among the three species of this genus, the southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) is one of the largest whales in the world. A southern right whale is readily distinguished from other right whales by the callosities on its head, the absence of a dorsal fin on its back, and a long arching mouth that begins above the eye. Its skin is very dark gray or black, with occasional white spots.

Their behavior at the water surface is similar to that of other right whales, and they are curious about human vessels. Southern right whales show strong maternal fidelity to their calving grounds. Southern right whales feed almost exclusively on zooplankton, especially krill, which they consume just below the water's surface, keeping their mouths partially open and constantly skimming water as they swim.

There are a number of factors that affect the species, including collisions with boats, entanglement in fishing nets, and in regions where large numbers of seagulls (Larus dominicanus) congregate. They tear off pieces of skin from the whales, causing severe injury or even death to the young.

What is the size of the southern right whale?

The average size is between 16 meters (52.4934 feet) and 18 meters (59.0551 feet). Males grow slightly smaller than females. The average weight is about 50 tons.

If you wish to know more interesting facts about whales, keep reading this article on why do dead whales explode?

Which Are the Largest Whales in the World and How Big Are They? - Southern right whale (Eubalaena australis)

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is a species of baleen whale. There are three known subspecies of the humpback whale. The humpback whale has a distinctive body shape, with long pectoral fins and a knobby head. It is known for breaching and other conspicuous surface behaviors, making it popular with whale watchers. All males in a group sing the same song each year, which changes depending on the season. The song lasts 10 to 20 minutes and each male can repeat it for hours.

Humpback whales are found in oceans and seas around the world and usually migrate up to 25,000 km (16,000 miles) per year. They feed in polar waters and migrate to tropical and subtropical waters to breed and give birth, where they fast and live off their fat reserves.

Gestation is about 11 months and average life expectancy is about 70 years. It is gregarious and generally feeds on surface plankton. It is considered of little concern because hunting of it is banned and has declined significantly, although it still occurs to some extent in some regions. Entanglements in mesh and boating accidents are the greatest threats to this species.

What is the size of the humpback whale?

The females reach a larger size than the males, between 16 meters (52.4934 feet) and 18 meters (59.0551 feet), while the males are about 16 (52.4934 feet) meters long. They weigh approximately 40 tons.

If you are interested in learning more about whales, do not miss this article on different types of whales.

Which Are the Largest Whales in the World and How Big Are They? - Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

If you want to read similar articles to Which Are the Largest Whales in the World and How Big Are They?, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

  • Animal Diversity Web. (2020). Available at: https://animaldiversity.org/
  • IUCN. (2022). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2021-3. Available at: https://www.iucnredlist.org
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Which Are the Largest Whales in the World and How Big Are They?