Fin whales - Finbacks are the second biggest whales in the world. The best places to meet them are Quebec and New England.


The second largest animals of all times. You can meet them almost everywhere - but you need quick eyes.


Photo: Shutterstock/Alberto_Loyo


The second largest animals of all times. You can meet them almost everywhere - but you need quick eyes.


Photo: iStock/ontspan


In almost every relevant aspect of being a whale, the finback comes in second after the blue whale. The only category it has a solid lead in is “numbers”. That makes them very interesting for whale watching.

Being the runner-up to the champ is never fun; especially if you keep coming in second all the time. Meet the finback: He could have been the biggest, heaviest and most impressive animal to ever live on this planet. Could have been… Because, there is this other big guy swimming through the oceans of the world, the blue whale: a bit bigger, a bit heavier and overall a bit more impressive.

Height of the blow, size of the fluke, daily amount of food and every other ranking in the world of maritime mammals: The finback outdistances every other whale by far – except for the blue whale. So: Dear finback, congratulations on being the second most impressive animal of all times.

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There is, however, one category, the finback dominates: Numbers. Excessive whaling in the 19th and 20th century left the blue whales with a number of a few thousand animals. The finback, for whatever reason, has recovered a lot better: Today, the estimated number of finbacks worldwide is estimated at 120.000 animals.

This is what makes the finback very interesting for whale watchers. The chances of meeting one are about ten times as high as meeting a blue whale and the experience is just as impressive. A very big finback is just as big as an average blue whale, after all.

And all alone in the open sea, without another friendly giant for comparison, sizes are hard to evaluate anyway. Their overall behavior is also very similar to blue whales: They just keep on swimming rather oblivious to whale watchers accompanying them.

Fin and blue whales are quite similar in size and behavior. Occasionally, they mate even among each other.

A finback is also a great whale to train your whale watching abilities. They swim at high speed in a rather unpredictable zig-zag-pattern, which makes following them a real challenge. If you are able to keep tracking a finback, no other whale will ever give you the slip.

Speed is also the one discipline, in which the blue whale can’t trump the finback: A blue whale’s 30 km/h are no challenge for the finback. His top speed is up to 47 km/h, which earned him the nickname: “Greyhound of the Seas”.


Photo: Oliver Dirr / whaletrips

18 to 25 meters, a maximum of 27 meters. Females are slightly bigger than males. Weight: Up to 100 tons.


All shades of lighter and darker grey, no spots. White belly. Asymmetric coloring: The right side of the lower jaw is white, the left one isn’t.


Very streamlined body. Same length but only half the weight of a blue whale makes it look a lot leaner. The head is flatter and rather V- than U-shaped.


High and slim, 4 to 6 meters. Significantly lower than the blue whale.


Very small and far in the back but more crescent-shaped and bigger than on the blue whale. Size and angle vary a lot.


Massive tail. Slightly concave and very wide triangular fluke with a white bottom side. Visible indentation in the middle.


Oblivious to boats. Often swimming in zigzags. Not too active on the surface, rarely breaches.


Can reach depths of up to 300 meters. Dives from 3 to 10 minutes with a maximum of 15 minutes. Resurfaces at a totally different location.


Despite being the target of excessive hunting, numbers have recovered well to an estimated 120.000 animals worldwide today.


Photo: Oliver Dirr / whaletrips

Checklist FIN WHALES

The asymmetric coloring on the right side of the head is the easiest way to identify a finback. If it swims close to the surface, the lighter side is well visible.

Finbacks are more social than blue whales and often travel in small groups and collectives, mostly up to 5 animals. They act just as unobtrusive as blue whales and are indifferent to boats. Their usual speed is 7 to 12 km/h, a bit slower while feeding, but can reach up to 47 km/h when fleeing.

Through the lower blow, the white jaw (only on the right side) and the bigger fin, fin whales can be distinguished from blue whales.

Usually, finbacks dive at a steeper angle than blue whales, so that a lot more of their pointed head is visible. Next is the high and loud blow while the enormous back lies well visibly in the water. Sometimes the lighter right hand side of the head is visible. The fin can only be seen shortly after the last blow before a longer dive. It only shows that late, because the finback is so long.

Back and tail get bent more for deeper dives, raising the fluke closer to the surface, only rarely showing it above the waterline. For lesser deep dives, the finback glides away at a flatter angle.

Finbacks rarely breach, but if they do, the often do a series of breaches. They lift the front half of their body out of the water and then noisily splash back in. Altogether, this looks slightly less elegant and acrobatic than humpbacks or right whales doing it.


Photo: Oliver Dirr / whaletrips

Where and when FIN WHALES

You can meet finbacks in every ocean – however, there are barely any whale watching tours that focus on them. They are more of a side dish.

Finbacks are rarely the main attraction of a tour. Usually, humpbacks, sperm whales, gray whales or orcas are the main draw. In many places, where you can see these whales, there is a good chance of spotting finbacks, too. Finbacks are the bonus you gladly accept, even though you came for some other whale.

Finbacks live in every ocean from pole to pole and keep migrating back and forth between warmer regions in lower latitudes during winter and colder waters in higher latitudes during summer.

There are also populations that are true to their location, e.g. in the Gulf of California. In the Mediterranean, the finback is the last rorqual you can meet and the only big whale next to the sperm whale.

Otherwise, finbacks can rather be found in open water and only near the coast, if the water is deep enough. Chances to meet them are best at the coast of Iceland, on the Azores, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, at the coast of New England and in the Gulf of California.

There are hardly any whale watching tours that specialize in fin whales. But you often see them by the way. For example at these places:

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