February's whale of the month is the fin whale, which is one of the largest animals in the world second only to the blue whale. It is the final stop in our audio guide and is located in the back room of the exhibition. Fin whales are sometimes called razorbacks or the greyhounds of the sea due to their fast swimming speeds. They live in every ocean except for parts of the Arctic that are covered in ice.
Fin whales have a life expectancy of around 80-90 years, though some accounts suggest that they can live to be over 100. They can grow up to 26 meters long and weigh up to 160,000 pounds. Like many ocean inhabitants, their back is dark and their underside is light. The colouring on the jaw is unique, with the lower jaw on the right side being mostly white and the left side mostly dark. The are the fastest great whale and can sustain speeds between 35 km/h to 41 km/hour, with bursts of up to 45 km/h. The total number of individuals left is not known for certain, but is thought to be fewer than 100,000.
Fin whales are usually seen in small pods of 2-10 individuals, but there have been much larger groups seen during feeding and migration periods. They rarely breach or spyhop, preferring to keep most of their body beneath the surface. Despite their tendency to stay in small pods they are not shy about meeting other species of cetaceans and have been seen interacting with humpbacks and blue whales. They have also been known to breed with the larger blue whales, creating hybrid offspring. They are filter feeders and use their long baleen plates to take up to 70 cubic meters of water in before filtering it out to feast on small fish and squids, copepods, and krill. Their baleen plates can reach up to 75cm in length and 30 cm in width. They are thought to eat around 1,800 kg of food per day.
The threats that fin whales face today include ship strikes, entanglement, noise pollution, and hunting. The only natural predator of the fin whale is the orca. Orcas will attack young calves, but once they have grown they are usually no longer a target. Historically, fin whales were hunted in the 20th century up to the 1980's. Despite being considered an endangered species, Iceland and Japan have continued to hunt them. There is some good news on that front – whaling in Iceland has taken a pause. Most whale meat was exported to Japan, but increasing restrictions, decreasing demand, and public opinion have had an impact on Icelandic whaling. Another significant factor is a marine sanctuary established around Reykjavík. In 2017 this area was expanded, causing whaling boats to have to sail much further out. Many countries all over the world are seeing the benefits of whale watching over whaling for both the environment and the local economy.
Fin whales can be seen around Iceland, especially in the northern part of the country. They are found in the south of Iceland as well, but the deeper waters they tend to favor are further out to sea so it is less common to see them on whale watching tours off the southern coast.