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Whale Watching Around The World Part 16

Updated on February 25, 2010

Even though they produce an astounding variety of sounds, cetaceans do not have vocal cords, and researchers still don't know how the creatures produce their sounds or from where baleen whales emit the sounds. Like other mammals, whales have lungs that drive air through the trachea and larynx, which in turn are connected by an air passageway to the mouth. A constriction between the back of the larynx and the trachea might serve as a kind of voice box, but baleen whales do not usually expel air from their mouths or blowholes during vocalization. Perhaps whale vocalization is physiologically separate from the respiratory system. Without a clear anatomical explanation, the apparatus used by whales to produce song remains a mystery.

Identifying Whales

Blue Whale

The largest creature on Earth can reach more than 100 feet long and weigh up to 190 tons. It has blue-gray skin, a small dorsal fin, and a broad, flat head with a single ridge running from the snout to the two blowholes. The impressive blow produces a narrow spray up to 29 feet high.

Fin Whale

The second largest whale can measure up to 85 feet long. It has a long, slender, grayish body with a small dorsal fin. Its underside and right lower jaw are white and it has a pleated throat that bulges with food and water during feeding. Its blow is narrow and up to 19 feet high.    

Humpback

An acrobatic whale know for repeated breaching, spyhopping, and flipper slapping, the humpback has extremely long flippers, flukes with irregular edges, a small dorsal fin, and tubercles, or knobs, on its lower jaw an the top of its head. The blow is low, wide, and usually heart-shaped.   

Gray Whale

Known for its migration between Mexico and Alaska and its friendly behavior in the lagoons of Baja California, gray whales measure up to 46 feet long and are sometimes seen spyhopping or breaching. The blow is either V- or heart-shaped and about 12 feet tall.   

Right Whale

This slow-moving baleen whale is easily identified by the patches of lumpy, roughened skin around its mouth and on its head. The animals reach 36 to 59 feet long and have dark, stout bodies, large flippers, no dorsal fins, and distinctive V-shape blows.   

Sperm Whale

The largest toothed whale has a huge head, dark, wrinkled skin, and a single blowhole on the left side of its forehead. It is sometimes observed resting motionless at the surface between dives. It can remain submerged for more than 90 minutes and reach depths greater than 8,000 feet. Its distinctive, angled blow is low and to the left.  

Beluga

This small northern whale has white or yellowish coloration, a robust body 9 to 16 feet long, a small beak, and a bulbous forehead used to produce a variety of sounds. A social creature, it usually travels in pods of 5 to 20 animals that sometimes join into groups of several hundred. Its blow is low, wide, and quite loud.  

Orca

The largest member of the dolphin family has a black body with a white underside, white oval patches behind the eyes, a prominent dorsal fin, and large, rounded flippers. The blow is low and inconspicuous but produces a distinctive chuffing sound. The animals are seen breaching, spyhopping, or traveling in groups.

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