Fin Whale (Pacific)

Balaenoptera physalus

SARA Status
No Status
NS
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

SARA Status

  • No Status NS
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX
COSEWIC Status
Not at Risk
NR
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

COSEWIC Status

  • Not at Risk NR
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX

At a glance

The fin whale (balaenoptera physalus) is the second largest whale in the world, after the blue whale (balaenoptera musculous). Fin whales are characterized by fast swimming speeds and streamlined bodies. Adult fin whales reach physical maturity at 25 years of age, and range in size from 20-27 metres, and 60-80 tonnes, with northern hemisphere populations tending to be slightly smaller than their southern counterparts. They can live for up to 100 years, and females reproduce at two to three year intervals. The species is often confused with blue, sei and Bryde’s whales due to similar sizes and characteristics, though fin whales can be distinguished by the asymmetrical pigmentation on their lower jaws, which is dark on the left and light on the right.

About the fin whale

Fin whales are found in all oceans of the world, but are more abundant in temperate to polar latitudes. They generally make seasonal migrations from low-latitude wintering areas to high-latitude summer feeding grounds. In Canada, fin whale populations occur in both the North Atlantic and North Pacific. The fin whale was once quite common in Canadian Pacific waters, but commercial whaling activity has greatly reduced their numbers. Fin whales generally travel alone or in small groups far offshore.

Why Fin Whales are at risk

Both historic and current threats have contributed to the decline of fin whales, resulting in the species being designated as threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and protected under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Fin whale populations off the coast of British Columbia were reduced by whaling in parallel with blue whale populations, following the introduction of modern whaling.

Local populations suffered further loss when the coastal whaling fleet was upgraded in the 1950s. At least 7,605 fin whales were taken by British Columbia coastal whaling stations between 1908 and 1967, before being put under worldwide protection by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1975. Today, fin whales face many threats, including ship strikes and increasing noise levels from shipping, sonar, military operations and oil and gas exploration. Other threats include entanglements in fishing gear and exposure to pollution. Any activities that degrade or displace fin whales from critical foraging habitat also pose a threat to the species.

What’s being done

The threatened North Pacific fin whale population is protected under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). It is also protected under the Marine Mammals Regulations, which fall under the Fisheries Act”. A Recovery Strategy for large whales (blue, fin and sei) has been finalized and an action plan is currently being developed.

Species at Risk Public Registry Profile