Antarctic Whales: Whales In Antarctica

List of Antarctic Whales, with pictures, facts and information. This article is part of our Antarctica series.

You can discover more incredible Antarctic animals here: Antarctic Animals List.

Antarctic Whales: Introduction

Southern Ocean Antarctica
Antarctic ice cliffs towering over the Southern Ocean.

Whales are marine mammals. They possess mammalian characteristics such as warm-bloodedness and (females) being able to produce milk.

Whales are members of a group of animals called Cetaceans. Cetaceans include whales, porpoises and dolphins. The Cetaceans’ closest land-based relatives are hippopotamuses.

There are two main types of Whale: baleen whales (Mysticeti), and toothed whales (Odontoceti).

  • Baleen whales are filter feeders equipped with ‘baleen plates’ in their mouths which are used to filter small items of food from the water.
  • Toothed Whales have teeth and generally pursue larger prey such as fish and squid.

Many species of whale are found in the Antarctic region. Some spend all of their lives in the cold southern waters. Others visit Antarctica in the summer months to feast on Antarctic Krill, before migrating to the warmer waters of the tropics to breed and give birth to their young.

On this page we’ll find out about all of the Whales that are seen in the Antarctic region. This region covers the coast of Antarctica, and the area south of the Antarctic Convergence. The Antarctic Convergence is where the cold Antarctic waters meet the warmer waters of the subarctic. It forms a natural boundary for many species.

The incredible video below shows Humpback Whales hunting:

Let’s find out more about Whales in Antarctica …

List Of Antarctic Whales

  • In this list of Antarctic whales, the conservation status of each species is from the IUCN Red List.
  • You can learn more about how endangered animals are classified here: Endangered Animals Facts.

Antarctic Minke Whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis)

Antarctic Minke Whale
Antarctic Minke Whale

The Antarctic Minke Whale is a baleen whale. It is a ‘rorqual’ whale, which means that it has long grooves running along its underside from its throat. It is one of the smaller species of whale and wasn’t targeted by hunters, meaning that its global population is still high.

Minke whales are often seen ‘spy hopping’ and ‘breaching’ (see below).

  • Spy hopping is when a whale (or other Cetacean) raises its head out of the water while in a vertical position. It’s a bit like a human treading water.
  • Breaching is when a whale jumps either partially, or wholly, out of the water.
  • Conservation status: Data Deficient (This means that not enough data has been collected to classify this species.)

The video below shows some Antarctic tourists having a close encounter with a Minke Whale!

Arnoux’s Beaked Whale (Berardius arnuxii)

Beaked whale

Beaked Whales are toothed whales. They get their name from their elongated ‘beaks’. Arnoux’s Beaked Whale is one of three species of Giant Beaked Whales.

Most Arnoux’s Beaked Whales are between 9 and 10 m (30 – 32 ft.), although larger specimens have been found. Its front teeth are visible even when its mouth is closed.

  • Conservation status: Data Deficient

Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus)

Blue Whale
Blue Whale: click image for more information on this species.

The Blue Whale is the largest animal ever to have lived on earth. This huge creature reaches lengths of over 30 m (100 ft.), and weighs up to 160 tons. It is widespread, and found in many parts of the world.

A blue whale subspecies, the Antarctic Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus intermedia) is found in Antarctic waters.

  • Conservation status: Endangered

You can read more about the Blue Whale here: Blue Whale Facts.

Dwarf Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

Dwarf Minke Whale
Dwarf Minke Whale

The Dwarf Minke Whale is currently regarded as a subspecies of the Common Minke Whale. Smaller than other Minke Whales, It grows to around 7.8 m (26 ft.). It has a white patch on its pectoral (side) fins that distinguishes it from other Minke Whales.

  • Conservation status: Not Evaluated

Dwarf Sperm Whale (Kogia sima)

Dwarf Sperm Whale
Dwarf Sperm Whale

The Dwarf Sperm Whale is the smallest whale. This toothed whale grows to around 2.7 m (9 ft.) in length. It is closely related to the slightly larger Pygmy Sperm Whale, which is also found in Antarctic waters. Both species are most often seen floating motionless at the surface; this behaviour is known as ‘logging’. These rare whales are seldom seen.

  • Conservation status: Data Deficient

Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus)

Fin Whale
Fin Whale

This huge baleen whale is the world’s second largest animal. Only the Blue Whale is larger. The Fin Whale grows to between 23 and 26 m (75 and 85 ft.), and can weigh between 36,000 and 72,000 kg (80,000 and 160,000 lbs).

The Fin Whale has a sleek, streamlined body which is black or dark grey on the back and sides, and white on the underside. The left side of its jaw is dark, and the right side is white. Like all rorqual whales, it has ridged skin on its throat and chest.

  • Conservation status: Endangered

You can find out more about the fin whale on this page: Fin Whale Facts

Gray’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon grayi)

Mesoplodon grayi

Gray’s beaked whale grows to around 6 m (20 ft.). It is unusual among the beaked whales for having upper teeth. It is a social animals that swims in groups. Groups of Gray’s beaked whale have been known to strand themselves on beaches. It is found all around the Southern Hemisphere, and is seen in Antarctic waters.

  • Conservation status: Data Deficient

Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

Humpback Whale
Humpback Whale. You can see the ridges running down its chest, identifying it as a Rorqual whale.

The Humpback Whale, as its name suggests, has a humped back, although its most distinctive features are its knobbly head and its long pectoral fins (the whale’s ‘arms’). It is seen in Antarctic waters in the summer, and migrates to warmer waters in the winter. Humpback colonies are also found in the Arctic.

  • Conservation status: Least Concern

You can find out more about the humpback whale on this page: Humpback Whale Facts

Long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas)

Pilot Whales
Pilot Whales

Like the fearsome Orca, the Long-finned pilot whale is a member of the oceanic dolphin family. Early naturalists believed that groups of Long-finned pilot whales had a leader, or ‘pilot’, which is how the Pilot whale came to get its name. Long-finned pilot whales, as their name suggest, have long pectoral (side) fins.

The Long-finned pilot whale grows to just under 6 m (20 ft.) It is a social animal, swimming in groups and often seen spyhopping.

The Long-finned pilot whale is found all around the world, including in or around the Antarctic Convergence and close to the Antarctic sea ice.

  • Conservation status: Data Deficient

Orca (Orcinus orca)

Orca Killer Whale
Orca / Killer Whale

The Orca (also known as the Killer Whale) is a toothed whale and member of the oceanic dolphin family. It is top of the Antarctic food chain, and its prey includes seals, fish and some other whales. This apex predator is found in all of the world’s oceans, not just the Southern Ocean around Antarctica.

  • Conservation status: Data Deficient

You can find out more about the killer whale / orca on this page: Killer Whale Facts

Pygmy Right Whale (Caperea marginata)

Caperea marginata 3

The Pygmy Right Whale is the smallest baleen whale. It grows up to 6.5 m (21 ft.) long. It does not have callosities. It was believed to be extinct until one was sighted in 2012. Little is known about the Pygmy right whale.

  • Conservation status: Data Deficient

Southern Bottlenose Whale (Hyperoodon planifrons)

The Southern Bottlenose Whale is a species of beaked whale. It is thought to be the commonest of the Antarctic whales. It grows to around 7.5 m (25 ft.) and 7,300 kg (16,000 lbs). It has a grey back and sides and a paler underside. It is seen at the Antarctic coast and throughout the Southern Ocean.

  • Conservation status: Least Concern

Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena australis)

Southern right whale6

The Southern Right Whale is seen around the Antarctic Peninsula. This marine mammal can grow up to 15m (50 ft.), and weigh up to 60 tons. It is a baleen whale; its mouth is equipped with baleen plates that filter its food (mainly krill) from the water. The Southern Right Whale’s ‘callosities’ (areas of thick, white skin) on its head can be used to tell individual whales apart.

  • Conservation status: Least Concern

Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus)

Mother and baby sperm whale

The sperm whale has a blunt nose and a small jaw which opens underneath its head. It is a toothed whale, and the world’s largest toothed predator. It dives to over 2 km in pursuit of its favourite prey, squid.

  • Conservation status: Vulnerable

You can find out more about the sperm whale on this page: Sperm Whale Facts

Strap-toothed Whale (Mesoplodon layardii)

Iziko Skull of Layard's Beaked Whale

The Strap-toothed whale is a toothed whale. It grows to just over 6 m (20 ft.). Its body is black, with areas of white on the beak and throat. The male strap-toothed whale has a pair of tusk-like teeth that grow out of its mouth and around its jaws. These teeth appear to prevent the jaws from opening more than a few inches. Although usually found north of the Antarctic Convergence, it is occasionally sighted in Atlantic waters.

  • Conservation status: Data Deficient

Antarctic Whales: Conclusion

We hope that you enjoyed learning about whales in Antarctica. If you want to find out more about the earth’s polar regions, check out these pages: