Fin Whale (Atlantic)

Balaenoptera physalus

SARA Status
No Status
NS
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

SARA Status

  • No Status NS
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX
COSEWIC Status
Not at Risk
NR
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

COSEWIC Status

  • Not at Risk NR
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX

Description

The fin whale is the second largest whale in the world, after the blue whale. It ranges in size from 20 to 27 metres and weighs from 60 to 80 tonnes. It reaches maturity at 25 years of age and can live up to 100 years. Females reproduce at two to three year intervals. The fin whale can be distinguished by the asymmetrical pigmentation on its lower jaw, which is dark on the left and light on the right. Fin whale population size estimates in the North Atlantic vary between 5,000 and 11,000 individuals.

Habitat

Fin whales are found in all oceans of the world, with the exception of the Arctic. There are two fin whale populations in Canada, one in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific. Fin whales generally travel alone or in small groups. They can be observed near the coast as well as far offshore. They feed on krill and small fish such as herring and capelin, which they filter out of the water using baleen. During summer, they can be found in areas of krill concentration, such as oceanic fronts off Newfoundland, cold water upwellings near Tadoussac (Quebec) and turbulence areas in the Bay of Fundy.

Threats

Commercial whaling considerably reduced the Atlantic fin whale population. There is no reliable population estimate prior to commercial whaling. But between 1903 and 1945, at least 13,337 fin whales were hunted in Atlantic Canadian waters. Several factors threaten the Atlantic fin whale population. The most important threat is noise pollution, caused by shipping, seismic exploration, military sonar and industrial development. Other important threats are changes in food availability, toxic spills, whaling – still occurring in Greenland and Iceland – and diseases. Some less important threats which need to be monitored include ship strikes, entanglements in fishing gear, marine life observation activities and harmful algal blooms.

Further Information

The Atlantic fin whale is listed as a species of special concern under the Species at Risk Act. A management plan was drafted for this population and is now posted on the Species at Risk Public Registry for a 60-day comment period.

Several organisations, including the Mingan Island Cetacean Study and the Groupe de recherche et d'éducation sur les mammifères marins and even researchers from Saint-Pierre et Miquelon collaborate with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to carry out several studies to improve our knowledge of the biology and ecology of fin whales in Atlantic Canadian waters. Additionally, in collaboration with conservation groups and non-governmental organizations, the Department supports marine mammal – including fin whale – response networks in all maritime regions of Canada.

Visit the Species at Risk (SARA) Public Registry Profile.

Fin Whale (Atlantic)

Fin Whale (Atlantic)

Photo: V. Lesage, DFO

Scientific name: Balaenoptera physalus
SARA Status: Special Concern (July 2006)
COSEWIC Status: Special Concern (May 2005)
Region: Atlantic

Fin whale (Atlantic) distribution as described in the following paragraph

Distribution of the Fin whale (Atlantic).

Did You Know?

The fin whale is nicknamed the greyhound of the sea because its streamlined body makes it a fast swimmer – up to 40 km/h.

Photo credit: Gary Taylor. Source: DFO, Newfoundland and Labrador Region.

Photo credit: Gary Taylor
Source: DFO, Newfoundland and Labrador Region.

Related Information