number of whale species

From: Phil Clapham (
Date: Mon Mar 25 2002 - 10:59:27 EST

Hi again:

Hmm, well it depends on what you mean by "whale". This word means two
things. First, it means the big animal (e.g. a blue whale). But it can
also mean "cetacean", which is the scientific name for all whales,
dolphins and porpoises (in other words, dolphins are little whales).

There are about 80 different species of cetaceans, of which most are
toothed whales (dolphins, porpoises, beluga, narwhal, beaked whales,
sperm whale etc). In terms of how many large whales there are, this
gets a bit tricky because there's disagreement on what a species is.
Here's a list, with some notes:

Sperm whale (only really "great whale" with teeth)

Blue whale (there is a subspecies called the "pygmy blue" which is about
the stupidest name imaginable given that they get to 80 feet! Some
people think this should be considered a separate species from the
"true" blue).

Fin whale

Sei whale

Bryde's whale (there are at least two, maybe three species - but there
has not been agreement on this yet, so for now only one is officially

Common minke whale (there is a "dwarf" form which is recognized as a
subspecies and may actually be a separate species in its own right).

Antarctic minke whale

Humpback whale

North Atlantic right whale
North Pacific right whale (note that scientists have only recently split
"northern" right whales into these two species).

Southern right whale

Bowhead whale

Gray whale

There's also the pygmy right whale, which is pretty small. All the
above except the sperm whale are baleen whales.

Hope this helps!

Phil Clapham

Cyndee Shellhaas wrote:
> Our second grade class wants to know if there are only 17 kinds of
> whales. We counted as we researched whales. We wonder if there are even
> more!
> Also one of our classmates believes that whales go to the same areas in
> the ocean to die. (Kind of like the elephants do at times.) Is this a
> true fact or a myth?
> We found out from you last week that whales have tonsils and we were so
> impressed! It was so exciting to hear from you! You have been an big
> part of our whale project and made whales a reality to this land locked
> class!
> Mrs. Shellhaas' second graders
> (: (: (: (: (: (: (: (: (: (: (: (: (: (: (: (: (: (:


Phillip J. Clapham, Ph.D. Large Whale Biology Program Northeast Fisheries Science Center 166 Water Street Woods Hole, MA 02543, U.S.A.

tel. 508 495-2316 fax 508 495-2066 email:

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