Whales and DolphinsWhales, dolphins and porpoises are collectively known as cetaceans. There are two main types of whales, both of which are found in the Antarctic: the "baleen whales", or mysticetes (such as the humpbacks and fin whales), and the "toothed whales", or odontocetes (which include all the dolphins and porpoises).
Earlier this century Blue Whales, Southern Right Whales and Humpbacks were nearly hunted to extinction, but they are now gradually recovering thanks to the international regulation of whaling. Today the entire area around the continent of Antarctica has been declared an international whale sanctuary, but many accuse some nations of continuing to hunt Minke whales under the guise of scientific investigation.
Whaling activities are monitored by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), a group composed of former (and present) whaling nations including the United States. However, smaller cetaceans such as various species of dolphins are not covered by the IWC or any other Antarctic regulation.
The Rorqual whales were originally the most sought after of whales, because of their valuable baleen and large size. They tend to be the largest of all whales, and one member -- the Blue Whale -- is the largest animal ever to have lived. Other Antarctic representatives of this group are the Fin, the Sei, the Humpback, and the Minke. Return
HumpbacksMost baleen whales migrate over the entire globe, moving from the Antarctic where they feed on krill, to the sub-tropics, where they breed and spend the winter season. The most well-known of these species is the Humpback, frequently spotted off the southern coasts when pods pass close to inhabited coastlines during their migrations. Humpbacks reach up to 50 feet in length, and weigh up to 40 tons; they travel in large pods of 200 or more individuals though they are more spread out during their migrations. They feed on schooling fish, and have the behavior of circling around these schools making a "bubble net" to concentrate their prey; they then lunge into the dense cloud of fish with mouth wide open to feed. Return
Minke WhalesMinkes are relatively small for a baleen whale, only about 30 feet (10 m); because of this they escaped the whaler's harpoons thoughout the heyday of whaling. After a period of extensive hunting into the middle of this century, their numbers decreased dramatically. There is some evidence to suggest, however, that the Minke whale's population has actually trebled or quadrupled following the modern regulation of whaling. The Minke was christened after a whaler named Meineke who mistook one for a baby Blue. Minke are also found in the northern hemisphere, and a year-round population is thought to live in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off Washington's coast. Return
OrcasEleven other smaller species of toothed whales inhabit the waters of the Antarctic proper. The most notorious is the familiar killer whale, or Orca, which feeds on seals, squid and even some of the "great" whales, which they attack much as wolves attack the larger caribou or moose. Orcas are relatively small, rarely exceeding 25 feet and 8 tons; they travel in pods of various sizes, and are found in all oceans. Return
DolphinsThe smaller members of the toothed whale family are usually referred to as dolphins. The Hourglass Dolphin is the southern-most dolphin, and the only one frequent in the Antarctic waters from 45 degrees to 65 degrees South. They are about 7 feet (2 m) long, with harlequin-like black and white markings. Hourglass dolphins live in schools of up to 40 animals, but otherwise little is known about their habits. Return
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