2015 – 10 Fin Whales

In early September, the Puget Sound Express whale-watching boat crew spied a rare fin whale off Whidbey Island, the first one spotted in the Salish Sea in decades. The Fin is the second largest mammal on the planet and named for its slender, fin-backed shape. I honestly didn’t know much about them, so I did some reading – and this is such an interesting creature that I wanted to share what I found. These whales are gigantic, for sure, and can become almost 90 feet long and can weigh 165,000 pounds. How big is this? A single fin whale could produce 660,000 whale burgers, or enough for every person in Seattle with leftovers. Don’t worry, I’d be willing to bet most of us would order something else.

Like other whales, this one was hunted (and still is), and it’s reported that between 1905 and 1976, 725,000 were slaughtered in the Southern Hemisphere alone. Fins, or finbacks have been described as the greyhound of the sea for their slender body that is “built like a racing yacht … which can surpass the speed of the fastest ocean steamship.” What caught my eye was the somewhat hidden description of the Fin’s eating style. Being a baleen whale, it filters small fish and crustaceans, shrimp and krill by simply opening its mouth wide, lunging forward and taking in whatever is in front of it – and then straining out what’s unnecessary (including about half the ocean). But it’s not just a dainty mouth! My drawings tell it all, and by this technique, a fin can consume about 4,000 pounds of food each day, probably explaining how it can grow so large in the first place.

 

Larry Eifert paints and writes about wild places. His work is in many national parks across America – and at larryeifert.com.

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