Some of the largest animals on earth, Baleen whales have baleen plates which filter their food, rather than teeth. It is possible for you to spot six different species of baleen whale during your time in Antarctica.
The humpback whale
One of the most easily recognized whale species. Reaching between 40 and 50 feet in length, a humpback whale can weigh up to 48 tons. They are identified from other whales due to their large flippers, the hump on their backs and the white markings on their underside. These whales, like others, regularly leap from the water, landing with a tremendous splash and are found near coastlines, feeding on tiny shrimp-like krill, plankton, and small fish. They migrate annually from summer feeding grounds near the poles to warmer winter breeding waters closer to the Equator.
Antarctic minke whales
Reach up to 35 feet in length but by whale standards they're still small, being no more than 10m long and weighing nine tonnes. Minkes are active swimmers and their sleek profiles allow for fast swimming. Three things that set the Antarctic minke apart are its larger size, a dorsal fin that is set farther back on the body, and asymmetrical coloration of its baleen. The presence of the majority of the Antarctic minke population in the Southern Ocean in the austral summer is linked to the profusion of krill in the surface waters. They lunge through the bioluminescent schools of the shrimp-like crustaceans and gulp large quantities as do other rorqual whales.
The largest animals on Earth. They rule the oceans at up to 100 feet long and upwards of 200 tons. Their tongues alone can weigh as much as an elephant. They look true blue underwater. The blue whale has a broad, flat head and a long, tapered body that ends in wide, triangular flukes. Their diet is composed nearly exclusively of tiny shrimp-like animals called krill.
Southern Right whales
Their name comes form being considered the "right" whale to hunt. They are easy to identify as the enormous head is covered in white-coloured outgrowths of tough skin forming a unique pattern on each whale, like fingerprints in humans. They are also commonly seen breeching—turning in mid-air and falling into the water with the side or back of the body. Using their long and numerous baleen plates, they feed on small plankton, including pelagic larval crustaceans and copepods. They are only found in the oceans of the southern hemisphere, inhabiting waters close to Antarctica during the summer and migrating northwards to coastal areas in winter.
Slender cetaceans, although they are more robust than fin whales, and they can be identified by their inverted "V" shaped water spout which reaches 6-8 feet into the air. Although they are fast swimmers, possibly the fastest of all cetaceans, they tend to swim in pods of 3-5 animals, and rarely dive deeper than 300 m. They will take whatever is in abundance locally, whether it be fish, squid or plankton, as long as it is shoaling. An average sei whale can eat about 900 kgs of krill and small fish a day.They inhabit all oceans and adjoining seas except in tropical and polar regions, feeding in cold water during the summer before migrating to warmer waters to breed and give birth to their calves.
The second largest animals in the world after the blue whales and the fastest swimming of all the large whales. They are very streamlined in shape and generally free of external markings, scarring and parasites. They are more sociable than the other rorquals often being found in small pods of 2-7 individuals and feed mainly on krill and schooling fish. They have been observed circling schools of fish at high speed, rolling the fish into compact balls then turning on their right side to engulf the fish. Like other large whales, the Fin's feed in the spring and summer at high latitudes in the Arctic or Antarctic and migrate towards warmer waters in the winter months.
Unlike baleen whales, toothed whales have only the one blowhole and, of course, teeth. There are 65 species of toothed whale including all dolphins and porpoises and they are smaller than their baleen cousins. Discover below the species of toothed whale you may encounter on your expedition to Antarctica.
The largest of the dolphins and one of the world's most powerful predators. They are immediately recognizable by their distinctive black-and-white coloring and are the intelligent, trainable stars of many aquarium shows. They hunt in deadly pods, family groups of up to 40 individuals and they feast on marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, and even whales, employing teeth that can be four inches (ten centimeters) long. They are known to grab seals right off the ice. They also eat fish, squid, and seabirds. Though they often frequent cold, coastal waters, orcas can be found from the polar regions to the Equator.
Southern bottlenose whales
Large beaked whales that reach 6-9 m in length. They have a stocky body shape and large, bulbous forehead that overhangs a short, dolphin-like beak. They live in groups of 1-25 and feed primarily on squid, but are also known to eat fish. When hunting at the surface near shore, it may consume pelicans and other birds, hitting the prey with its fluke before devouring it. They are able to dive for over an hour. They inhabit the South Atlantic, Indian and South Pacific Ocean and are found in open water beyond the continental shelf in water deeper than 1,000 m.
Easily recognized by their massive heads and prominent rounded foreheads. They have the largest brain of any creature known to have lived on Earth. They are known to dive as deep as 3,280 feet in search of squid to eat and must hold their breath for up to 90 minutes on such dives. They eat thousands of pounds of fish and squid—about one ton per day. Sperm whales are often spotted in pods of some 15 to 20 animals which include females and their young, while males may roam solo or move from group to group.