What is a whale?
Sure, I know, whales are whales…but did you know that all dolphins and porpoises are whales too? It’s true; they are toothed whales just like the great sperm whale made famous by Moby Dick. As a matter of fact, the sperm whale is the only toothed whale that is considered a great whale because of its immense size. All of the other great whales like the blue, fin, humpback, gray, and right whale do not even have teeth. Instead they have baleen plates which are used to strain their food which consists of plankton, krill, small schooling fish, and cocopods. Its hard to imagine that the largest creatures on earth eat some of the smallest, but it’s true and they can eat as much as couple of tons (over 4,000 pounds) per day!
To sum things up: dolphins, porpoises and whales are all whales too. Orcas however, more commonly known as killer whales (think “Free Willy”), are dolphins too. I know what you’re thinking, if all whales are whales, and if dolphins and porpoises are whales, then maybe all whales are dolphins too. Right? Wrong! But still, orcas are dolphins.
As a matter of fact, they are the largest of the dolphin species growing to lengths in excess of 30 feet. Next to man, orcas are the most widely distributed mammal on Earth.
In all, there are over 80 species of whales living in our world today. These 80 species of whales make up the classification order known as Cetacea.
What is a Cetacean?
Cetacean is the Latin name for whale. A Cetacean is a whale which belongs to the family known as Cetacea.
Cetacea contains two suborders: Mysticeti and Odontoceti
- Baleen whales (whales without teeth) are members of the Mysticeti suborder.
- Toothed whales, like the sperm whale, along with all the dolphins and porpoises, make up the suborder Odontoceti.
- Altogether, the two suborders contain over eighty known species, further separated into thirteen different families.
- Each family of whales is further classified into sub-families, or genera, of which there are 40.
Mysticeti (or toothless “Baleen” whales) contain four families:
Note: Between these four families are six genera, and eleven species.
Note: Between these nine are thirty-six genera, and seventy species.
I know this all sounds complicated, and the academia’s want it that way, but it really isn’t as bad as it sounds. Take a look for yourself!
Baleen Whales (Suborder Mysticeti)
Rorqual Whales (Family Balaenopteridae)
Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus)
Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus)
Sei Whale (Balaenoptera borealis)
Bryde’s Whale (Balaenoptera edeni)
Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)
Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)
Northern Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis)
Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena australis)
Bowhead Whale (Balaena mysticetus)
Pygmy Right Whale (Caperea marginata)
Gray Whales (Family Eschrichtiidae)
Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus)
Toothed Whales (Suborder Odontoceti)
Sperm Whales (Family Physeteridae & Kogiidae )
Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus)
Pygmy Sperm Whale (Kogia breviceps)
Dwarf Sperm Whale (Kogia simus)
Large Oceanic Dolphins (Blackfish)
Orca (Killer Whale) (Orcinus orca)
False Killer Whale (Pseudorca crassidens)
Pygmy Killer Whale (Feresa attenuata)
Melon-Headed Whale (Peponocephala electra)
Long-Finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala melas)
Short-Finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus)
Atlantic Humpbacked Dolphin (Sousa teuszii)
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin (Stenella frontalis)
Atlantic White-Sided Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus)
Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Chilean Dolphin (Cephalorhynchus eutropia)
Clymene Dolphin (Stenella clymene)
Commerson’s Dolphin (Cephalorhynchus commersonii)
Dusky Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus)
Heaviside’s Dolphin (Cephalorhynchus heavisidii)
Hector’s Dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori)
Hourglass Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus cruciger)
Indo-Pacific Humpbacked Dolphin (Sousa chinensis; Sousa plumbea)
Irrawaddy Dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris)
Long-Beaked Common Dolphin (Delphinus capensis)
Northern Rightwhale Dolphin (Lissodelphis borealis)
Pacific White-Sided Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens)
Pantropical Spotted Dolphin (Stenella attenuata)
Risso’s Dolphin (Grampus griseus)
Rough-Toothed Dolphin (Steno bredanensis)
Short-Beaked Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis)
Southern Rightwhale Dolphin (Lissiodelphis peronii)
Spinner Dolphin (Stenella longirostris)
Striped Dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba)
Tucuxi (Sotalia fluviatilis)
White-Beaked Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris)
Amazon River Dolphin (Boto) (Inia geoffrensis)
Chinese River Dolphin (Baiji) (Lipotes vexillifer)
Ganges River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica)
Indus River Dolphin (Platanista minor)
La Plata River Dolphin (Pontoporia blainvillei)
Burmeister’s Porpoise (Phocoena spinnipinnis)
Dall’s Porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli)
Finless Porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides)
Harbour Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena)
Spectacled Porpoise (Australophocaena dioptrica)
Vaquita (Phocoena sinus)
White Whales (Family Monodontidae)
Beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) >
Narwhal (Monodon monocerus>
Andrews’ Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon bowdoini)
Arnoux’s Beaked Whale (Beradius arnuxii)
Baird’s Beaked Whale (Beradius bairdii)
Bahamonde’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon bahamondi)
Blainville’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon densirostris)
Cuvier’s Beaked Whale (Ziphius cavirostris)
Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon europaeus)
Gray’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon grayi)
Hector’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon hectori)
Hubbs’ Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon carlhubbsi)
Lesser Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon peruvianus)
Longman’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon pacificus)
Northern Bottlenose Whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus)
Shepherd’s Beaked Whale (Tasmacetus sherpherdi)
Southern Bottlenose Whale (Hyperoodon planifrons)
Sowerby’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon bidens)
Stejneger’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon stejnegeri)
Straptoothed Whale (Mesoplodon layardii)
True’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon mirus)
Unidentified Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon ‘species A’)