Fin Whale
(Balaenoptera physalus)

Photo of a Fin Whale.
Fin whale in Sea of Cortez, Mexico. ©Tom Kieckhefer

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20 Hz pulses recorded by SOSUS receivers in the eastern North Atlantic. To make this sound audible for humans, it was sped up by a factor of ten. This raises the pitch and compresses the time.
Sound © Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Bioacoustics Research Program.
Fin whales are dark gray with a distinctive pale chevron on their back and a white lower right jaw and dark lower left jaw. They grow to 24 meters (80 ft) in length. Fin whales are distributed worldwide, and are usually found in higher latitudes in the summer. Fin whales produce low frequency vocalizations that are called "20-Hz pulses" even though they are usually downward sweeps in frequency from about 30 to 15 Hz. Their vocalizations can be as loud as 184-186 underwater dB, making them one of the most powerful biological sounds in the ocean. Scientists use these loud calls to study their distribution. Recent research in the Gulf of California, Mexico, shows that fin whale vocalizations are only produced by male whales. These results support the hypothesis that these vocalizations function as male breeding displays, attracting females from great distances to concentrations of prey that the male has found.

  • Charif, R.A., Mellinger, D.K., Dunsmore, K.J., Fristrup, K.M. and Clark, C.W. 2002, "Estimated source levels of fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) vocalizations: Adjustments for surface interference." Marine Mammal Science 18(1): 81-98. 
  • Croll, D.A., Clark, C.W., Acevedo, A., Tershy, B., Flores, S., Gedamke, J. and Urban, J. 2002, "Only male fin whales sing loud songs." Nature 417(20 June 2002): 809. 
  • Watkins, W.A, Tyack, P.L., Moore, K.E. and Bird, J.E. 1987, "The 20-Hz signals of finback whales (Balaenoptera physalus)" Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 82(6): 1901-1912. 
Additional Resources

  • "American Cetacean Society Fact Sheet: Fin Whale." (Link)
  • "Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Bioacoustics Research Program : Finback Whale Vocalizations." (Link)
  • Richardson, W.J., Green, C.R. Jr., Malme, C.I. and Thomson, D.H. 1995, "Marine Mammals and Noise." San Diego, CA: Academic Press. 
  • "PMEL/NMML Whale Acoustics Project: Fin Whale." (Link)
  • Scripps Institution of Oceanography, "Voices in the Sea." (Link)