Biology

Classification & Identification
Whales, dolphins and porpoises are classified as cetaceans. These are aquatic mammals with torpedo-shaped bodies, horizontal tails, multiple stomachs, a layer of blubber, elongated skulls, compressed neck vertebrae, eyes on the sides of their head, and don’t chew their food. Learn more

Anatomy & Physiology
Cetacean body structure is similar to most other mammals with tails, except for the missing hind limbs. Ribs are not attached to the vertebrae; only the first pair connect to the sternum. Openings for nostrils, their blowholes, are on the top of the head. Baleen whales have two blowholes, toothed whales have one blowhole. Learn more

Comparative Anatomy
Vertebrae: 33 in human, varies in cetaceans; cervical – humans 7, cetaceans – 7; thoracic – humans 12, cetaceans 9 to 18; lumbar – humans 5, cetaceans 2 to 29; sacral – humans 5 fused, cetaceans 0; caudal – humans 4, cetaceans 19 to 27. Learn more

Reproduction and Growth
The three species of baleen whale that hang in the Jacobs Family Gallery have pregnancies that last 11-12 months. Sperm whales typically gestate for 15 months. In general, most cetaceans have 10-13 month pregnancies, with some odontocetes like pilot whales and orcas having 16-17 month pregnancies. Learn more

Evolution & Adaptation
Whales as we know them have existed for approximately 33 million years. They are well evolved for living their entire lives in the water. Some of these whales live in extreme environments. These conditions require specialized adaptations for survival. Learn more

Number of Whales
Estimates for whale species are always a guess. Here are the most recent estimates for the species that hang in the museum, plus the one considered the most endangered. Learn more

About Whales (Cetaceans)
According to the Society for Marine Mammalogy, 88 species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises are included in the Order Cetacea. Learn more

Skeletons of the Deep
The 5 skeletons that are on display in the Museum came from animals that either died accidentally, or by undetermined circumstances. Interesting facts about each of the Museum’s skeletons. Learn more

Finding and Identifying Whales
Links to websites about whales, whale conservation, whale databases, an educational interactive and more. Learn more

Fascinating Facts
Did you know that some whales have regional accents? Learn more

 

Top Banner Caption: Blue whale anatomy. Credit: Uko Gorter.