Subject: California whales

Pieter Folkens (
Mon, 24 Feb 1997 23:50:06 -0700

>What three types of whales can be seen off the California coast?

First define whale. Do you wish to include all species of cetacea
(mysticetes and odontocetes) or just mysticetes (baleen whales) or just
animals larger than a certain size?

I have seen all Balaenopterid species (the finners [sei, fin, Bryde's and
minke], blue and humpback whales) off the Californiacoast. Northern right
whales were once common, but are now rare. Gray whales are most common
along the coast. They are largely transient in California waters as they
migrate from the summer feeding grounds in the north and the birthing
lagoons in Baja.

The only mysticete species which are not seen off the California coast are
the Bowhead and Pygmy Right Whale (and technically the southern right

All three sperm whales (great, dwarf & pygmy) are seen off the coast, but
in deep water. Other deep water California species include Baird's beaked
whale, Cuvier's beaked whale, Blainville's beaked whale, Ginkgo-toothed
whale, Stejneger's beaked whale, and Hubbs's beaked whale. There are more
than a dozen dolphin species in California including dolphins with "whale"
in their name such as killer whales, pilot whales and false filler whales.

In terms of threes:
The three species closest to the coast are the gray, humpback and right whales.
The three largest are the blue, finner and sperm whales, though the sei and
humpback are similar in size to the sperm.
The three smallest (and still worthy of the name whale) are the pygmy and
dwarf sperm whales and the minke whale.
The three largest California animals called whales which really are not
true whales include killer whale, short-finned pilot whale and false killer


Pieter Folkens

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