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Title: Rorqual  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: List of endangered and protected species of China, List of mammals of Massachusetts, Sei whale, Fin whale, Omura's whale
Collection: Baleen Whales
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Cetacea
Suborder: Mysticeti
Superfamily: Balaenopteroidea
Family: Balaenopteridae
Gray 1864


Rorquals (Balaenopteridae) are the largest group of baleen whales, a family with nine extant species in two genera. They include what is believed to be the largest animal that has ever lived, the blue whale, which can reach 180 tonnes (200 short tons), and the fin whale, which reaches 120 tonnes (130 short tons); even the smallest of the group, the northern minke whale, reaches 9 tonnes (9.9 short tons).

Rorquals take their name from French rorqual, which derives from the Norwegian word røyrkval, meaning "furrow whale".[2]


  • Characteristics 1
  • Distribution and habitat 2
  • Feeding habits 3
  • Taxonomy 4
    • Alternate generic taxonomy for living rorquals 4.1
  • References 5
    • Notes 5.1
    • Sources 5.2


All members of the family have a series of longitudinal folds of skin running from below the mouth back to the navel (except the [3] These "pleated throat grooves" distinguish balaenopterids from other whales.[3]

Rorquals are slender and streamlined in shape, compared with their relatives the right whales, and most have narrow, elongated flippers. They have a dorsal fin, situated about two-thirds the way back. Rorquals feed by gulping in water, and then pushing it out through the baleen plates with their tongue. They feed on crustaceans, such as krill, but also on various fish, such as herrings and sardines.[4]

Gestation in rorquals lasts 11–12 months, so that both mating and birthing occur at the same time of year. Cows give birth to a single calf, which is weaned after 6–12 months, depending on species.[4] Of some species, adults live in small groups, or "pods" of two to five individuals. For example, humpback whales have a fluid social structure, often engaging behavioral practices in a pod, other times being solitary.

The "minke" whale is allegedly named after a Norwegian whaler named Meincke, who mistook a northern minke whale for a blue whale.[5][6]

Distribution and habitat

Distribution is worldwide: the blue, fin, humpback, and the sei whales are found in all major oceans; the common (northern) and Antarctic (southern) minke whale species are found in all the oceans of their respective hemispheres; and either of Bryde's whale and Eden's whale occur in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans, being absent only from the cold waters of the Arctic and Antarctic.

Most rorquals are strictly oceanic: the exceptions are Bryde's whale and Eden's whale (which are usually found close to shore all year round) and the humpback whale (which is oceanic but passes close to shore when migrating). It is the largest and the smallest types — the blue whale and Antarctic minke whale — that occupy the coldest waters in the extreme south; the fin whale tends not to approach so close to the ice shelf; the sei whale tends to stay further north again. (In the northern hemisphere, where the continents distort weather patterns and ocean currents, these movements are less obvious, although still present.) Within each species, the largest individuals tend to approach the poles more closely, while the youngest and fittest ones tend to stay in warmer waters before leaving on their annual migration.

Most rorquals breed in tropical waters during the winter, then migrate back to the polar feeding grounds rich in plankton and krill for the short polar summer.

Feeding habits

Humpback feeding on young pollock off Alaska

As well as other methods, rorqual whales obtain prey by lunge feeding on bait balls.[7] Lunge feeding is an extreme feeding method, where the whale accelerates to a high velocity and then opens its mouth to a large gape angle. This generates the water pressure required to expand its mouth and engulf and filter a huge amount of water and fish.[7]

Rorquals have a number of anatomical features that enable them to do this, including bilaterally separate mechanoreceptors that helps their brain to coordinate the engulfment action.[8] Furthermore, their large nerves are flexible so that they can stretch and recoil.[9] In fact, they give rorquals the ability to open their mouths so wide that they would be capable of taking in water at volumes greater than their own sizes. These nerves are packed into a central core area that is surrounded by elastin fibers. Opening the mouth causes the nerves to unfold, and they will snap back after the mouth is closed.[9] According to Potvin and Goldbogen, lunge feeding in rorqual whales represents the largest biomechanical event on Earth.[10]


Skeleton of the extinct Balaenoptera hubachi at the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin

Formerly the rorqual family Balaenopteridae was split into two subfamilies, Balaenopterinae and Megapterinae, with each subfamily contained one genus, Balaenoptera and Megaptera respectively. However, the phylogeny of the various rorqual species shows the current division is paraphyletic, and in 2005 the division into subfamilies was dropped.[11] The discovery of a new species of balaenopterid, Omura's whale (Balaenoptera omurai), was announced in November 2003, which looks similar to, but smaller than, the fin whale; individuals of this species were found in Indo-Pacific waters.

Alternate generic taxonomy for living rorquals




  1. ^ Mead, J.G.; Brownell, R.L., Jr. (2005). "Order Cetacea". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 723–743.  
  2. ^ "Etymology of mammal names". IberiaNature — Natural history facts and trivia. Retrieved 2006-12-07. 
  3. ^ a b Minasian, Stanley M.; Balcomb, Kenneth C.; Foster, Larry, eds. (1984). The World's Whales: The Complete Illustrated Guide. New York: The Smithsonian Institution. p. 18.  
  4. ^ a b Gambell, Ray (1984). Macdonald, D, ed. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. pp. 222–225.  
  5. ^ "minke". Retrieved 2007-08-30. 
  6. ^ Lazarus, Sarah (2006). Troubled Waters: The Changing Fortunes of Whales and Dolphins (PDF). CSIRO Publishing. Retrieved 2007-08-30. 
  7. ^ a b Reeves, RR; Stewart, BS; Clapham, PJ; Powell, JA (2002), National Audubon Society Guide to Marine Mammals of the World, Chanticleer Press,  
  8. ^ Pyenson, N.D.; Goldbogen, J.A.; Vogl, A.W.; Szathmary, G; Drake, R.L.; Shadwick, R.E. (2012). "Discovery of a sensory organ that coordinates lunge feeding in rorqual whales".  
  9. ^ a b McSpadden, Kevin (5 May 2015). "Gigantic Whales Eat Thanks To 'Bungee-Cord' Nerves". Retrieved 6 May 2015. 
  10. ^ Potvin, J; Goldbogen, J.A. (2009). "Balaenoptera physalus"Passive versus active engulfment: verdict from trajectory simulations of lunge-feeding fin whales . J. R. Soc. Interface 6 (40): 1005–1025.  
  11. ^ Deméré, T.A.; Berta, A.; McGowen, M.R. (2005). "The taxonomic and evolutionary history of fossil and modern balaenopteroid mysticetes". Journal of Mammalian Evolution 12 (1/2): 99–143.  
  12. ^ Thalassotherii in the Paleobiology Database. Retrieved October 2013.
  13. ^ Hassanin, A.; Delsuc, F.; Rpiquet, A.; Hammer, C.; Vuuren, B. J.; Matthee, C.; Ruiz-Garcia, M.; Gatzeflis, F.; Areskoug, V.; Nguyen, T. T.; Couloux, A. (2012). "Pattern and timing of diversification of Cetartiodactyla (Mammalia, Laurasiatheria), as revealed by a comprehensive analysis of mitochondrial genomes". Comptes Rendus Biologies 335: 32–50.  


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