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Scientific classification
Kingdom Information
Domain Eukaryota
Kingdom Animalia
Subkingdom Bilateria
Branch Deuterostomia
Phylum Information
Superphylum Chordata
Phylum Vertebrata
Infraphylum Gnathostomata
Class Information
Superclass Tetrapoda
Class Mammalia
Sub-class Theriiformes
Infra-class Holotheria
Order Information
Order Cetacea
Population statistics

Whales are marine mammals of the order Cetartiodactyla.


Whales are separated into the toothed whales, Odontocetes (which includes dolphins, porpoises, narwhals, beaked whales and sperm whales), and the whalebone, or baleen, whales, also called Mysticetes. The latter are mostly very large, which, instead of teeth, have baleen (whalebone) to filter small prey from the water; they are what people generally think of when the word whale is used. The whalebone whales include the rorquals - the blue whale, fin whale, sei whale, Bryde's whale, minke whale, and humpback whale; the Grey Whale; and the various right whales.

Although whales are famed for the massive size reached by some species, such as the blue whale (the largest animal to ever live), others are relatively small, like the pygmy right whale which grows to about 20 feet[1]. Though whales have many traits in common with fish (including fins and tails) they are classified as mammals under the Linnaean taxonomy classification system because they breathe air and lactate. Whales have a number of remarkable features including:

  • they decide when to breathe, rather than breathing unconsciously
  • they sleep 8 hours a day, yet need to be conscious to breathe
  • they can communicate with each other by making remarkably loud noises
  • these extraordinary noises can travel for miles under water
  • the females nurse their calves while swimming underwater
  • the males have a unique cooling system for their internal reproductive organs
  • whales, along with humans and horses, are some of the few mammal species that do not possess baculum (penile bone)
  • some have two blow-holes, but others only have one
  • the blow-holes pass air above water, yet resist intense pressure underwater
  • they have massive brains, much larger than the brains of other mammals


There are two kinds of whales: toothed whales of the suborder Odontoceti, and whalebone (baleen) whales of the suborder Mysticeti.

  • Suborder Mysticeti: Baleen whales
Family Balaenidae: Right whales
Genus Balaena
Bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus
Genus Eubalaena
North Atlantic right whale, Eubalaena glacialis
North Pacific right whale, Eubalaena japonica
Southern right whale, Eubalaena australis
Family Balaenopteridae: Rorquals
Subfamily Balaenopterinae
Genus Balaenoptera
Antarctic minke whale, Balaenoptera bonaerensis
Common minke whale, Balaenoptera acutorostrata
Bryde's whale, Balaenoptera brydei
Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Fin whale, Balaenoptera physalus
Sei whale, Balaenoptera borealis
Subfamily Megapterinae
Genus Megaptera
Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Family Eschrichtiidae
Genus Eschrichtius
Gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus
Family Neobalaenidae
Genus Caperea
Pygmy right whale, Caperea marginata
  • Suborder Odontoceti: Toothed whales
Family Monodontidae
Genus Delphinapterus
Beluga, Delphinapterus leucas
Genus Monodon
Narwhal, Monodon monoceros
Family Physeteridae: Sperm whales
Genus Physeter
Sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus
Genus Kogia
Dwarf sperm whale, Kogia sima
Pygmy sperm whale, Kogia breviceps
Family Ziphidae: Beaked whales
Genus Berardius
Arnoux's beaked whale, Berardius arnuxii
Baird's beaked whale, Berardius bairdii
Subfamily Hyperoodontidae
Genus Hyperoodon
Northern bottlenose whale, Hyperoodon ampullatus
Southern bottlenose whale, Hyperoodon planifrons
Genus Indopacetus
Indo-Pacific beaked whale, Indopacetus pacificus
Genus Mesoplodon
Andrews' beaked whale, Mesoplodon bowdoini
Blainville's beaked whale, Mesoplodon densirostris
Gervais' beaked whale, Mesoplodon europaeus
Ginkgo-toothed beaked whale, Mesoplodon ginkgodens
Gray's beaked whale, Mesoplodon grayi
Hector's beaked whale, Mesoplodon hectori
Hubbs' beaked whale, Mesoplodon carlhubbsi
Perrin's beaked whale, Mesoplodon perrini
Pygmy beaked whale, Mesoplodon peruvianus
Sowerby's beaked whale, Mesoplodon bidens
Spade-toothed whale, Mesoplodon traversii
Stejneger's beaked whale, Mesoplodon stejnegeri
Strap-toothed whale, Mesoplodon layardii
True's beaked whale, Mesoplodon mirus
Genus Tasmacetus
Shepherd's beaked whale, Tasmacetus shepherdi
Genus Ziphius
Cuvier's beaked whale, Ziphius cavirostris


The question of how whales and their relatives could have evolved from terrestrial mammals has taxed evolutionary biologists since Darwin's suggestion that they may have evolved from ancient bears.
"In North America the black bear was seen . . . swimming for hours with widely open mouth, thus catching, like a whale, insects in the water. Even in so extreme a case as this, if the supply of insects were constant, and if better adapted competitors did not already exist in the country, I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered, by natural selection, more and more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale."

In more recent times molecular and fossil evidence has been used to suggest that modern whales and their relatives arose from ancient artiodactyls (even-toed ungulates) with the closest living relative of all whales being hippopotami.[3] This kinship has been termed the whippo hypothesis.[4] Evolutionary biologists estimate the last ancestor of whales and hippos lived about 25 million years ago[5], going so far as to merge the orders Cetacea and Artiodactyla into one: Cetartiodactyla. This theory of cetacean origins contrasts with the young earth creationist position that whales were created about 6000 years ago, before land animals .[6][7][8]

Whaling industry

Bradford, Icebound Whaling Ship.

See: Whaling

Whales in literature

The Bible

Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Jonah 1:17 (KJV)

The great fish that swallowed Jonah is often thought of as being a whale, although the translation of 'great fish' is not a precise designation of species but may indicate any physically large, ocean-going creature. The physical difficulty of having a human be swallowed by a whale and survive the intense pressure of diving, lack of air and acidic environment of the stomach, and the fact that the Bible says that God "prepared" the fish has led some to suggest the creature may be uniquely and specially prepared by God for the purpose. Alternatively, Jonah may have been simply protected by supernatural means.

Whales are mentioned in three other places in the King James Version of the Bible:

  • Genesis 1:21: "And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good."
  • Job 7:12: "Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?"
  • Ezekiel 32:2: "Son of man, take up a lamentation for Pharaoh king of Egypt, and say unto him, Thou art like a young lion of the nations, and thou art as a whale in the seas: and thou camest forth with thy rivers, and troubledst the waters with thy feet, and fouledst their rivers.


Arguably the most famous book about whales is Herman Melville's Moby Dick, about a whaling-ship captain obsessed with hunting down the sperm whale (Moby Dick) which had bitten off one of his legs.

See Also

Further reading


  1. [1]American Cetacean Society website
  2. Charles Darwin, Origin of species 1st edition
  3. [2] Theodore, JM (2004) Molecular Clock Divergence Estimates And The Fossil Record Of Cetartiodactyla The Journal Of Paleontology 78:39-44
  4. http://www.sciencenews.org/pages/pdfs/data/1999/15619/15619-10.pdf
  5. [3] UCLA Berkley Understanding Evolution for Teachers website
  6. Sarfati, Jonathan Whale evolution? Refuting Evolution, Chapter 5.
  7. Batten, Don, A whale of a tale? Journal of Creation 8(1):2–3, April 1994.
  8. Williams, Alexander, and Sarfati, Jonathan, Not at all like a whale, Creation 27(2):20–22, March 2005.