Whales are members of Cetacea order of marine animals, which includes dolphins and porpoises. They are large, intelligent aquatic mammals (not fish) and are found in all the oceans of the world.
Cetaceans can be divided into 2 groups: toothed whales (Odontoceti) and the baleen whales (Mysticeti). Toothed whales have a single nostril (blowhole) and use their peg-like teeth to catch their prey which they swallow as a whole. Baleen whales are slightly larger, have 2 nostrils, and sieve tiny marine organisms with a comb-like structure called baleen. Toothed whales, dolphins and porpoises are a diverse group of over 70 species. They include killer whales (orca), beluga and sperm whales. There are 13 species of baleen whales including blue whales, humpback whales and right whales.
Whales are enchanting, magnificent creatures and each species has unique and distinct characteristics. The biggest whale is the blue whale, which grows to about 29 m (94 ft) - the height of a 9-storey building. These enormous animals eat about 4 tonnes of tiny krill each day, obtained by filter feeding through baleen.
Adult blue whales have no predators except man. Not only is it the largest whale, it is also the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth. Killer whales are the fastest, swimming at speeds of up to 48 kph (30 mph). The smallest whale is the dwarf sperm whale, which as an adult is only 2.6m (8.5 ft) long.
Whales communicate with each other using sounds and often whales songs can be heard for miles under water. They use these sounds to attract mates, keep track of their offsprings and locate prey. The humpback’s songs can last for up to 30 minutes.
Your chances of seeing one in the wild
The whaling industry, collision with ships, entanglement with fishing gear, toxic contamination, climate change and habitat destruction combine to push whale populations into oblivion. Even after decades of protection it is not known whether some species will recover. Seven out of the 13 baleen whale species are still endangered or vulnerable after decades of protection
The blue whales of the Antarctic are at less than 1% of their original abundance. The West Pacific grey whale population is the most endangered in the world and it hovers on the brink of extinction with just over 100 remaining.
Even though the Southern Ocean has been declared as a whale sanctuary, over 1,000 whales are killed each year for the commercial market. If this continues, your chances of seeing many species of this enchanting creature in the wild are pretty bleak.