Grey whale

A grey whale breaching: An incredible sight, and the sound travels a very long way in water

Grey whale

The gray whale (other names include grey whale, gray back whale, Pacific gray whale, Korean gray whale, or California gray whale), is a baleen whale that migrates between feeding and breeding grounds yearly. They can reach 14m in length and 41 tonnes. It is found in North pacific – with the Northeast Pacific (American population) and the Northwest Pacific (Asian population) that is endangered. The northern population has been extinct for a long time.

Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises family tree

Cetaceans -Whales, porpoise and dolphins

Few people can avoid stopping to watch, if they spot cetaceans from a cliff. While the family is wide and varied, they are all pretty interesting. From some of the largest and most intelligent hunters such as killer whales to the largest animal on earth the blue whale.

Whale and dolphin watching tourism is worth a lot of money – this can be essential, as in many places the extra money helps a community survive. 

I hope, overtime, to make this section of the website as large a list of places to view cetaceans and people who will help you in that quest.

As might perhaps be suspected, all of the mammal species which have returned permanently to the sea, and developed breathing holes located on their back (and therefore perfectly placed for taking quick breaths) are  related.

So what is the most closely related living land mammal? Perhaps obviously, it is a species which spends much time in the water – the hippopotamus.

As with all of these pages, as we create pages for each individual species, they will be linked to the photo below.

So the baleen whales are split into three families, these are not large as there are only 16 species of baleen whales in the world. At the current time, there are roughly 1.1 million baleen whales in the worlds oceans

Below is a family tree of the group


Baleen Whales

Baleenideae – the rhight whales


The first  living split is Baleenidae, this family is not huge. The north atlantic and north pacific are closest related, these species are closely related to the Southern pacific right whales. Their name is unfortunate – it is called right whale for 3 reasons, it swims slowly, floats when dead and carries a large amount of oil. This lead to all these species being hunted close to extinction.

The other family is called Balaenopteroidea. Here species peel off slowly. I will list them in the order that they split.

The first split is the minke whale – of which there are 2 species, the common and southern minke whale, with the grey whale being the next most similar.

The next are the humpback whale and the fin whale followed by the Blue whale.

The last group of whales are from a group called the Brydes whales complex

This completes the list of baleen whales. The other branch of the Cetaceans is known as the toothed whales

Toothed Whale

.I am going to look at them in 3 groups, though the third is not particularly closely related to each other

  • Delphinoidea: This includes
    • Monodontidaes – Belugas and narwhals
    • Phocoenidae – The family of Porpoises (7 species) such as harbour porpoises and Vanquita


    • Delphininidae – these are the oceanic dolphins – 37 species split into several subfamilies which we will deal with one by one.
Subfamily Delphininae – 15 species

Subfamily  Globcephalinae 11 species

Subfamily incerta sedis (latin for “of uncertain placement” )6 species

Subfamily Lissodelphininae 6 sppecies

Subfamily Orcininae

  • Inioidea : This includes 3 groups
    • Iniidae (only 1 of 5 genus remains -Inea (4 species: Araguaian river dolphin, Bolivian river dolphin  and Orinoco dolphin)
    • Lipotidae: which contains only one species: the Baiji or Chinese river dolphin
  • Pontoporiidae: which contains one species 

The next family is the beaked whales. There are 24 species, of which only 3-4 have been well studied. This is because they spend much of their time deep in the sea, it appears that each species does not have many members and they are incredibly reclusive in their habits.

One might ask how an air breathing animal can spend so much of its time deep in the ocean? Well the Curved beaked whale has had a dive timed at 138 minutes. More incredible, they only need around 2 minutes to catch their breathe before sinking back into the depths. This means that if required, they can spend just 20 minutes out of 24 hours at the surface – an incredible stunt.

There appear to be a great number of species that are extinct – these we will not list, but will mention each subfamily in passing.

Incertae sedis contains 5 extinct genus, Basal forms include 13 extinct genus

Subfamily Berardiinae contains 3 genus, 2 of which are extinct, but the third contains 3 living species (and one dead) .  

Genus Beradius


Next we cover the Bottlenose whales

Northern                                                                                                                     Southern and                                                        Tropical

Subfamily Ziphiinae  contains 5 genus, 3 are extinct, but two have just one species in each

Genus Tasmacetus: Shepherds beaked whale Genus Ziphius: Cuviers beaked whale

Click on the image to see it in full

As you can see from the whale family tree, the sperm whales are separate from the rest. However, they are toothed whales so belong in this section of the page.

Lone grey whale migrates half way around the world

DNA analysis has shown that a grey whale first seen off the South West African coast, originated in a population off the eastern coast of Asia.

Grey whales are known for their incredible migrations

This grey whale in question was spotted off the coast of Namibia by scientists. Given where they are usually found, they wanted to check what was going on so took a DNA sample.

The sighting is exciting, as it suggests that grey whales collectively have memory of long unused breeding grounds, or are merely exploring beyond their current range.

Even more exciting, this male was found to likely come from the North pacific population, a highly endangered population with only 200 members.

Now while from this populations point of view, a female migrating the other way would have been more useful, it suggests that there is far more mixing across huge distances than was previously known.

Perhaps as the pressures of whaling fade into history, these animals will return. It is true that whaling is not yet being left in the past. Norway Iceland and Japan all still have small whaling industries. However, provided whaling is kept at this level, or reduces over time the vast majority of whales will be unaffected. It is important that whaling (even in these limited numbers) stays clear of certain species; for instance northern right whales still only number around 200 in the wild, so even hunting at the levels we will have could push this species to extinction.

Any decision on which species can be hunted must come down to science. It is irrelevant if a people have hunted a specific whale for centuries, if they would exterminate the rest of its species.

Whales should be allowed to recover to previous levels. They are also capable of sequestering carbon in large quantities, both from their dead bodies and waste. We need them to thrive – both for their benefit and for ours.

Animals moving away from extinction

The mountain gorilla and the fin whale have been reassessed and their conservation status had been found to not accurately show their position.

In the case of mountain gorillas, this is understandable. In 2008 the mountain gorilla population numbered approximately 680, the most recent number was around 1000. That is an increase of roughly 50% in just a decade. As such they have been moved from critically endangered to endangered. Mountain gorillas are only found in two reserves and so the population will always be delicate, but clearly for the time being, with less instability in the region they are doing well. Given the wars and issues of this region, though, this position could change very fast.

Continue reading “Animals moving away from extinction”
See Animals Wild