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Fin Whale

Fin Whale

One of the world's giants, known for their remarkable speed through the water

Information about Fin Whale

Our Expert Says… "We don't tend to see Fin Whales in the Antarctic itself, but they are a real highlight on the way in and out of the area, as they tend to prefer the edge of the continental shelf. We've had many close encounters where fin whales have come close to ships and have rather easily overtaken them in order to feed on prey ahead of us!"

The fin whale is second in size only to the blue whale and is one of the world’s largest creatures. Also known as the finback whale, and formerly the razorback whale, they can grow up to 27m (90ft) long and weigh in at 72 tons. They are found throughout the Atlantic ocean and at both polar regions, although northerly fin whales are smaller and lighter than the southern ocean population.

Despite their size, they have been described as “the greyhound of the sea”. This is because their body shape is slender and very streamlined, allowing them to swim at a greater speed than other whales. They have been recorded swimming at a sustained 25mph and can hit 30mph for short bursts.

Fin whales are more social than other baleen whales and tend to live in loose groups of 6 to 10 individuals. However, large congregations of up to 100 individuals have been observed feeding in particularly rich waters.

The brown-gray colored fin whale is, like the blue whale, a baleen whale. This means they use special plates in their mouths to filter the seawater of krill and small crustaceans, squid, and small fish. As was the case with their larger cousins, fin whales were heavily hunted in the southern oceans by commercial whalers during most of the 20th century. The Antarctic population was particularly badly affected, and by 1997 the population in the southern hemisphere was estimated to be only 38,000. The entire worldwide population is thought to be only around 100,000 individuals. They have made a slow recovery since the moratorium on commercial whaling and they are therefore listed as vulnerable.

On your polar expedition, you are most likely to spot fin whales offshore while you sail between landing sites. Your expert naturalist guides will be on hand to help you distinguish between fin whale and blue whale sightings and to answer any questions you have about these magnificent animals.

Interesting facts about Fin Whale

The Fin Whale has asymmetrical pigmentation with a white jaw and baleen on the right that is dark on the left. It is thought this helps to scare prey, and it also helps to distinguish the Fin Whale from the similar but smaller Sei Whale.

Pictures of Fin Whale

Fin Whale

Highlights where the Fin Whale can be seen

Elephant Island

Elephant Island is one of the outermost of the South Shetland Islands. The roots of its name are argued to be one of two reasons. Either the fact that Elephant seals were seen hauled out here in large numbers by the first person to discover and map the island, Captain George Powell in 1821, or that the island’s shape is uncannily like that of a baby elephant’s head with trunk extended!

The island remained unexplored for many years thanks in part to its lack of resources (just small numbers of seals and penguins and no native plants) and partly because of its steep volcanic rocks, presenting few landing points.

However, in 1916 Elephant Island became immortalized as the scene of the beyond-all-odds survival story that was Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition.

After their ship Endurance was lost to the treacherous ice in the Weddell Sea, the 28 crew were forced to make a perilous escape attempt. After months in open boats and stuck on drifting ice sheets, the team arrived at Elephant Island. Here they set up a base to stay at Point Wild while Shackleton and five members of his crew set sail in an open lifeboat for South Georgia - a journey of over 800 miles - to seek a rescue ship.

This stunning tale of endurance, determination, and the human spirit is brought home to visitors to Elephant Island by the Endurance Memorial at Point Wild. You can also see breathtaking views of the Endurance Glacier - named after Shackleton’s lost ship - as well as the stunning rocky terrain and its Chinstrap Penguins and seals.

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)
Exploring the pack ice

The highlight of many Svalbard cruises is to explore the pack ice, and the best conditions occur when there is an obvious edge to pack ice to sail past, or calm seas where some ships go into the loose pack ice.

It is a unique and unforgettable experience to explore the pack ice ‘at the top of the World’. Seabirds feed along the edge, that can also be good for Harp Seals, and whales. The highlight is to spot a bear. Sometimes they are at a distance, sometimes a few hundred metres away, sometimes they come right up to the ship. What is crucial is to bring binoculars to enjoy and observe the Polar Bear in the heart of their realm, the pack ice, whatever the distance.

Sometimes a bear is seen quickly, sometimes it takes a few hours, sometimes it takes most of the day. Other times two days can be spent exploring the pack without seeing a bear. It is important to patient, enjoy the whole experience, with a bear sighting being the icing on … the pack ice! Conditions can change quickly. Mists often come in to reduce visibility. Currents can spread out the ice into widely scattered pack, making bear sightings less likely. Strong winds and a swell can mean keeping further away from the pack ice edge.   In the early season the whole northern coast is in the grip of the pack, plus fast ice in the deeper parts of the fjords on the western side. Ships explore the ice edge to the NW of Spitsbergen at this time, with more options as the ice retreats north. As the pack ice retreats north it gradually ‘unzips’ from west to east, clearing the coast of northern Spitsbergen first, then the northern end of Hinlopenstretet, (enabling circumnavigations of Spitsbergen, exactly when varying from season to season), then the northern coast of Nordaustlandet and Sjuøyane.

Some years the ice edge can end up a long way to the north, enabling a circumnavigation of the whole archipelago, even to reach remote Kvitøya. Other years, pack ice remains along the northern coast of Nordaustlandet, caught up among the offshore islands. This prevents a circumnavigation of the archipelago, but the areas of drifting pack ice around and places like Lagøya and Sjuøyane can be superb for ship cruising and even Zodiac cruise amongst the pack.

The Falkland Islands

The Falkland Islands (known in Argentina as Islas Malvinas) is an archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean. Most people may be familiar with them because of the conflict that was fought here by armed forces from Argentina and the UK in 1982, but there is so much more to the Falklands.

Inhabited since 1764, these remote islands have been colonized and claimed by many countries - France and Spain have claimed them (and Argentina since its formation and former Spanish colony) although it’s the British descendants who make up the majority of the islands’ 4,000 population. As a British Overseas Territory, the Falklands are self-governing, but the UK is responsible for defense and foreign affairs. Argentina still disputes the sovereignty of the islands they call the Malvinas.

Made up of two large islands (East and West Falkland) and over 700 smaller islands and islets, the Falklands are as beautiful as they are rugged and remote. Despite its history as a base for South Atlantic whalers and sealers, and more recently extensive sheep farming, the Falkland Islands have retained great biodiversity, and modern conservation has ensured many previously struggling wild species are now returning.

The Falklands is home to important populations of albatross, having some of the largest breeding sites in the world. They are also home to the rare striated caracara, 63 species of nesting land bird, and 5 penguin species. Seals, whales, dolphins, and other marine life are also abundant. Finally, the rugged landscape itself has a stark beauty, and the islanders, although hardy, offer everyone the warmest of welcomes, usually accompanied by a hearty Falklands Tea.

Fishing and farming account for the vast majority of the Falklands Islands income, although tourism is increasingly important. Many of the farms on the islands are now managed with wildlife conservation in mind, and the Falklands is a wildlife management success story.

Although most ships visit Stanley (usually for a day), the main focus on 'expedition' cruises are the outer islands with all the wildlife, and some of the special breeding birds like Black-browed Albatross and Southern Rockhopper Penguins and some Patagonia specialists like the Striated Caracara. Also bear in mind, with cruises that also go to South Georgia and the peninsula, only 2 or 3 days are normally spent in the Falklands, although some cruises spend longer here.

Our trips to spot the Fin Whale

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