Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.Map Help



Balaenoptera physalus is a baleen whale and can be recognised as such by the plates of baleen (rather than teeth) suspended from the upper jaw and the two blowholes on the upper body. The fin whale is slender bodied and can reach up to 24 m in length. It is a member of the rorqual family with the characteristic ventral pleats of skin under the eye and the relatively flat and broad jaw. The ventral pleats extend beyond the navel. The small flippers are less than one-fifth of the body length. It has only one prominent ridge on the snout. The head is pointed and V-shaped, the dorsal fin is a moderate size and set less far back on the body, and the head colouration is asymmetrical. The fin whale has a dark dorsal and lateral colouration with light streaks and the belly is white. The left side of the head is grey, while much of the right side is white in colour.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Occasionally seen off the coasts of northern and north-western Scotland and southern Ireland.

Global distribution



The fin whale is an open ocean whale, not often seen near the coast in north-west Europe. It can be found at the surface or diving down to over 230 metres in depth.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Up to 24 m in length.
  • Dark dorsal and lateral colouration with light streaks; the belly is white.
  • Left side of head is grey, right side is white.
  • Broad tail flukes from tip to tip.
  • Medium-sized dorsal fin set two-thirds down the body.
  • Up to 100 ventral pleats ending past the navel.

Additional information

The fin whale can be confused with the blue whale Balaenoptera musculus but can be recognised by the pointed and V-shaped head with an asymmetrical colouration and the moderate sized dorsal fin that is set less far back on the body. Fin whales are often slightly more social than other rorquals and tend to gather in pods of up to 7 or more individuals. It does occassionally breech but when diving, rarely show the tail flukes. Dives may last up to 10 minutes long (Kinze, 2002).


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  4. Kinze, C. C., 2002. Photographic Guide to the Marine Mammals of the North Atlantic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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  1. Bristol Regional Environmental Records Centre, 2017. BRERC species records recorded over 15 years ago. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-09-25.

  2. Dumfries and Galloway Environmental Resources Centre, 2017. Mammal records for Dumfries and Galloway. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-09-27

  3. Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, 2018. Visual sightings data set 2003-2017. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-09-27.

  4. Isle of Wight Local Records Centre, 2017. Isle of Wight Notable Species. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-09-27.

  5. Merseyside BioBank., 2017. Merseyside BioBank (verified). Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

  6. National Trust, 2017. National Trust Species Records. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

  7. NBN (National Biodiversity Network) Atlas. Available from:

  8. Norfolk Biodiversity Information Service, 2017. NBIS Records to December 2016. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

  9. OBIS (Ocean Biodiversity Information System),  2024. Global map of species distribution using gridded data. Available from: Ocean Biogeographic Information System. Accessed: 2024-06-23

  10. South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre, 2018. SEWBReC Mammals (South East Wales). Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-02.

  11. Suffolk Biodiversity Information Service., 2017. Suffolk Biodiversity Information Service (SBIS) Dataset. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-02.

  12. The Mammal Society., 2017. National Mammal Atlas Project, online recording. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-02.

  13. West Wales Biodiversity Information Centre, 2018. Seatrust Cetacean Records West Wales. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-02.

  14. Whale and Dolphin Conservation, 2018. WDC Shorewatch Sightings. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-02.


This review can be cited as:

Barnes, M.K.S. 2008. Balaenoptera physalus Fin whale. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 23-06-2024]. Available from:

Last Updated: 24/06/2008