Balaenoptera physalus 

Scope: Global
Language: English

Translate page into:

Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Cetartiodactyla Balaenopteridae

Scientific Name: Balaenoptera physalus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Infra-specific Taxa Assessed:
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Fin Whale, Common Rorqual, Finback, Fin-backed Whale, Finner, Herring Whale, Razorback
French Baleine à nageoires, Baleine fin, Baleinoptère commune, Rorqual Commun
Spanish Ballena Aleta, Ballena Boba, Rorcual Común
Taxonomic Notes: The subspecific phylogeny of Fin Whales has not yet been fully elucidated, but some authors recognize a northern hemisphere subspecies B. p. physalus and a southern hemisphere subspecies B. p. quoyi which has a larger body size. Clarke (2004) proposed a pygmy subspecies B. p. patachonica Burmeister, 1865, but this is not widely accepted and no genetic analysis has been performed.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered A1d ver 3.1
Year Published: 2013
Date Assessed: 2008-07-01
Assessor(s): Reilly, S.B., Bannister, J.L., Best, P.B., Brown, M., Brownell Jr., R.L., Butterworth, D.S., Clapham, P.J., Cooke, J., Donovan, G.P., Urbán, J. & Zerbini, A.N.
Reviewer(s): Taylor, B.L. & Notarbartolo di Sciara, G.
The cause of the population reduction in this species (commercial whaling) is reversible, understood, and is not currently in operation. For this reason, the species is assessed under criterion A1, not under A2, A3 or A4. The analysis in this assessment estimates that the global population has declined by more than 70% over the last three generations (1929-2007), although in the absence of current substantial catches it is probably increasing. Most of the global decline over the last three generations is attributable to the major decline in the Southern Hemisphere. The North Atlantic subpopulation may have increased, while the trend in the North Pacific subpopulation is uncertain.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Fin Whales occur worldwide, mainly, but not exclusively, in offshore waters. They are rare in the tropics, except in certain cool-water areas, such as off Peru.

North Atlantic
In the North Atlantic, the Fin Whale’s range extends as far as Svalbard (Norway) in the northeast (but rarely far into the Barents Sea), to the Davis Strait and Baffin Bay (Canada and Denmark (Greenland)) in the northwest (but rarely into the inner Canadian Arctic), to the Canary Islands (Spain) in the southeast, and to the Antilles in the southwest (Rice 1998, Perry et al. 1999), but it is rare in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico (Ward et al. 2001). Their main summer range in the Northwest Atlantic extends from Cape Hatteras (39°N) (US) northward (Anon. 2005a). In former times, Fin Whales were caught year-round near the Straits of Gibraltar. While there may be some north-south migration between summer and winter, it does not necessarily involve the entire population, and North Atlantic Fin Whales may occur to some extent throughout the year in all of their range, as suggested by acoustic data (Clark 1995).

There is a resident subpopulation in the central and western Mediterranean which is genetically distinct from that of the North Atlantic (Bérubé et al. 1998). The species also occurs rarely in the eastern Mediterranean (Notarbartolo di Sciara et al. 2003).

North Pacific
In the eastern North Pacific, Fin Whales occur year-round off the central and southern California coast (Anon. 2003). They occur in summer off the entire coast of western North America from California into the Gulf of Alaska. Fin Whales marked off California in winter were recaptured in summer by whaling operations along the entire coast, suggesting migration. Offshore, Fin Whales occur across the North Pacific north of 40°N, at least from May to September in summer, with some tendency for a northward shift in distribution in high summer, when they also enter the Okhotsk Sea (Miyashita et al. 1995). They occur in the Bering Sea and some have been seen in the Chuckchi Sea, but rarely in the Beaufort Sea (Angliss and Outlaw 2004).

Fin Whales occur, albeit in small numbers, in Hawaiian waters in both summer and winter (Anon 2005b). They are rare or absent throughout the tropical North Pacific.

While there appears to be some migration, acoustic data suggests that overall there is no marked seasonality in distribution in the North Pacific (Watkins et al. 2000), in contrast to the traditional view of the Fin Whale as a migratory species.

Gulf of California
The Fin Whales inhabiting the Gulf of California constitute a resident, genetically isolated subpopulation (Bérubé et al. 2002). Telemetry information has shown year-round residency in this area, with seasonal latitudinal movements (Urbán et al. 2005).

East China Sea
Fin Whales in the East China Sea are generally recognized as being a distinct subpopulation from those of the North Pacific (Fujino 1960). Fin Whales appear to be rare today off the Korean peninsula and southern and central Japan, but large numbers were caught there in the 20th century (IWC 2006); it is not clear whether these animals were part of the East China Sea population or a separate grouping.

Southern Hemisphere
While some Fin Whales do penetrate into the high Antarctic, along with Blue, Minke and Humpback Whales, the bulk of the Fin Whale summer distribution is in middle latitudes, mainly 40°S-60°S in the southern Indian and South Atlantic oceans, but 50°-65°S in the South Pacific, as evidenced by both sightings data and past catches (Miyashita et al. 1995, IWC 2006a).

The winter distribution is poorly known, but based on catch results Fin Whales were formerly common off southern Africa in winter and became scarce there following depletion of the species in the Southern Ocean, consistent with this being a wintering area of a migratory population (Best 2003). Catches were mainly off South Africa, but in the early 20th century there were also catches off Angola, Congo and Mozambique (Best 1994).

Recent sighting were made in the mid-latitude region (between 55°S and 61°S) by the IWC/SOWER (Southern Ocean Whale and Ecosystem Research Program). A high density area of Fin Whales was observed between 0°E and 5°E in the south of Bouvet Island (Ensor et al. 2007).

Large numbers of Fin Whales were caught off South Georgia in the past, but the species is not common there now (Moore et al. 1999). It is assumed that animals caught at South Georgia were migratory (Mackintosh 1965), but the location of their wintering grounds is unknown. Fin Whales are now rare in Brazilian waters, but there is virtually no information from the period before the depletion of the whales around South Georgia (Zerbini et al. 1997). A few were taken in a brief period of whaling in southern Brazil in the early 1960s.

Winter catches of Fin Whales off Chile, which also declined from the 1950s onwards in line with declining Southern Ocean stocks, are also suggestive of a wintering ground. Fin Whales were caught off Peru for only a few years from 1965 (prior to that the industry had focused on sperm whales), and catches petered out in the early 1970s.

The map shows where the species may occur based on oceanography. The species has not been recorded for all the states within the hypothetical range as shown on the map. States for which confirmed records of the species exist are included in the list of native range states.
Countries occurrence:
Algeria; Angola; Antarctica; Argentina; Australia; Belgium; Bermuda; Bouvet Island; Brazil; Canada; Cape Verde; Chile; China; Congo; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Croatia; Cyprus; Denmark; Ecuador; Egypt; Falkland Islands (Malvinas); Faroe Islands; Fiji; France; French Southern Territories (Kerguelen); Gabon; Germany; Gibraltar; Greece; Greenland; Heard Island and McDonald Islands; Iceland; India (Andaman Is., Laccadive Is., Nicobar Is.); Indonesia; Iran, Islamic Republic of; Iraq; Ireland; Isle of Man; Israel; Italy; Japan; Korea, Democratic People's Republic of; Korea, Republic of; Lebanon; Libya; Madagascar; Malaysia; Malta; Mauritius (Rodrigues); Mexico; Monaco; Morocco; Mozambique; Namibia; Netherlands; New Caledonia; New Zealand; Norway; Oman; Pakistan; Peru; Philippines; Portugal; Réunion; Russian Federation; Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha (Tristan da Cunha); Saint Pierre and Miquelon; Saudi Arabia; Seychelles (Aldabra); Slovenia; South Africa; South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands; Spain; Sri Lanka; Svalbard and Jan Mayen; Sweden; Syrian Arab Republic; Tunisia; Turkey; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; United States; Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Arctic Sea; Atlantic – eastern central; Atlantic – Antarctic; Atlantic – southeast; Atlantic – northwest; Atlantic – northeast; Atlantic – southwest; Atlantic – western central; Indian Ocean – Antarctic; Indian Ocean – eastern; Indian Ocean – western; Mediterranean and Black Sea; Pacific – northeast; Pacific – northwest; Pacific – southeast; Pacific – eastern central; Pacific – western central; Pacific – Antarctic; Pacific – southwest
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:North Atlantic
North Atlantic Fin Whales were comprehensively assessed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) Scientific Committee (SC) in 1991 (IWC 1992), and an update for the northern part of the region was undertaken in 2006 in a joint workshop with the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission (NAMMCO) (IWC 2007a). North Atlantic Fin Whale stocks had previously been assessed by the IWC Scientific Committee in 1976 (IWC 1977).

Based mainly on past whaling operations, the IWC recognizes seven management areas in the North Atlantic: Nova Scotia; Newfoundland-Labrador; West Greenland; East Greenland-Iceland; North Norway; West Norway-Faeroe Islands; British Isles-Spain-Portugal. Based on genetic evidence, it is now considered more likely that there are from two to four breeding stocks, which use these seven management areas in different proportions (IWC 2007a).

The best available estimates of recent abundance accepted by the IWC Scientific Committee (IWC 2007c) are: 25,800 (CV 0.125) in 2001 for the central North Atlantic (East Greenland-Iceland, Jan Mayen (Norway) and the Faeroes (Denmark)); 4,100 (CV 0.21) in 1996-2001 for the northeastern North Atlantic (North and West Norway); 17,355 (CV 0.27) in 1989 for the Spain-Portugal-British Isles area (Buckland et al. 1992); and 1,722 (CV 0.37) for West Greenland in 2005 (IWC 2007b) There are no complete estimates for the western North Atlantic , but partial estimates are 1,013 (95% CI 459-2,654) for Newfoundland in 2002-3 (IWC 2007a), and 2,814 (CV 0.21) for the east coast of North America from the Gulf of St Lawrence southward (Anon. 2005a).

Subject to a caveat concerning the different dates of the surveys, these figures can be summed to provide a rough total estimate of about 53,000 around the year 2000.

No significant trends were found in the total abundance for any of the above areas, but when the area west and southwest of Iceland was singled out, a significant increasing trend was found (IWC 2007a).

Fin Whales were heavily exploited in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, starting in 1876, particularly off Norway, Iceland, the Faeroes and British Isles. Whaling then spread to Spain, Greenland and eastern Canada, and exploitation continued at a lower level until the 1980s.

Catch statistics for the early years are probably incomplete, and a large number of whales were killed but lost, due to lines breaking, etc., perhaps up to one-half in the first 20-25 years and one-third in the next 15-20 years (Tønnessen 1967). The IWC Scientific Committee added 50% to recorded catches up to 1915 to allow for this (IWC 2007a): recorded catches up to 1915 total 15,315 Fin Whales plus 29,024 unspecified whales of which about half may have been Fin Whales, thus the total kill may have been about 45,000 up to 1915. The total recorded catch post-1915 has been about 55,000 Fin Whales. The approximate figures by area are: Canada 12,000; Norway 10,000; Iceland 10,000; Faeroes 5,000; Greenland 1,000; British Isles 3,000; Spain and Portugal 11,000; and pelagic operations 3,000.

The behaviour evident for the various North Atlantic Fin Whale populations following earlier reductions by whaling differs. It ranges from clear evidence of recovery to no firm indications of any increase. An estimated 14,000 Fin Whales were killed off northern Norway during 1876-1904, and a further 1,500 during 1948-71, but Fin Whales are rare there now (although quite abundant off western Spitsbergen, where about 1,500 whales had been killed during 1904-11) (Øien 2003, 2004). An estimated 12,000 Fin Whales were killed off Iceland during 1890-1915, until whaling was suspended partly due to concerns about the reductions in the stocks, but the modern abundance data suggest that the there has been a recovery in the population that may still be continuing, particularly west of Iceland, despite catches during 1948-89 averaging about 220 per year (Branch and Butterworth 2006). An estimated 10,000 Fin Whales were taken from the Faeroes, but about 25% of these were actually caught off eastern Iceland (IWC 2007a). Whaling from the Faeroes and West Norway petered out during the 1960s as whales became scarce (IWC 1977), but catches had apparently been mainly of migrating whales rather than whales belonging to local populations. The impact of catches on the fin whale stocks in the Northwest Atlantic is unclear (Mitchell 1972).

Catches of about 7,000 Fin Whales taken near the Straits of Gibraltar in the 1920s apparently reduced the local abundance, and Fin Whales are still rare there today, but this did not seem to affect the abundance of Fin Whales off northern Spain, where catches continued until 1985. Within the Mediterranean, the population was estimated in 1991 from surveys covering much of the western basin at 3,583 (CV 0.27) (Forcada et al. 1996). It is likely, but not certain, that the historical catches near the Strait of Gibraltar were from the North Atlantic rather than from this population (Sanpera and Aguilar 1992). Palsbøll et al. (2004) found that Mediterranean Fin Whales probably have a small but non-zero genetic exchange with Fin Whales elsewhere in the North Atlantic. The Mediterranean subpopulation contains fewer than 10,000 mature individuals and is subject to ongoing threats that may be causing a decline, but data on trend in abundance are insufficient to determine this (Reeves and Notarbartolo di Sciara 2006).

North Pacific
North Pacific Fin Whale stocks have not been assessed in depth by the IWC Scientific Committee since 1973, when the assessment by Ohsumi and Wada (1974) was accepted, and that was updated by Allen (1977). The stock in the western North Pacific was estimated to have declined from an “initial level” of 44,000, to 17,000 in 1975. The figures refer to the “exploitable” population, above the minimum allowed size at capture. However, these assessments were based on indices of catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) and sightings-per-unit-effort (SPUE) that did not meet modern requirements for the analysis of such data (e.g. IWC 1989), although there is no doubt that the populations had declined to some unknown extent.

The current abundance of Fin Whales in the North Pacific is not well known, because survey coverage has been patchy, and not all available data have been analysed. Current estimates indicate a population of 5,700 whales in the Bering Sea, coastal Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska (Moore et al.2002, Zerbini et al. 2006). Zerbini et al. (2006) estimated a trend in abundance of 4.8%/year with a nominal CV of 0.15 for Fin Whales in the northern Gulf of Alaska from 1987 to 2003, but recalculation of the variance from the data indicates low precision (95% confidence limits -1.6-11.1%).

Based on surveys conducted in 1996 and 2001, an estimated 3,300 (CV 0.31) fin whales occur in summer/autumn off the west coast of the US (Barlow 2003a). Apart from a small population in Hawaiian waters (estimated 174 animals, CV 0.72; Barlow 2003b), there are no recent estimates of Fin Whale abundance in the remainder of the North Pacific. Some relevant data exist, including data collected under the Japanese Research Programme in the North Pacific (JARPN) (Tamura et al. 2005), but these do not appear to have been analysed with respect to Fin Whale abundance. Fin Whales seem to be abundant in the central offshore part of the Okhotsk Sea, based on Japanese surveys conducted in 1989, 1990, 1992, 1999, 2000 and 2003, but no abundance estimate has been calculated (Miyashita 2004).

Given the lack of a comprehensive recent estimate, the estimate of 17,000 in 1975 from the earlier assessment is used for this assessment, but the global assessment is not particularly sensitive to the figure used for the North Pacific.

Over 74,000 Fin Whales are recorded caught by modern whaling in the North Pacific during 1910-75, plus about 20,000 unspecified whales during 1900-30, of which a substantial proportion may have been Fin Whales. Fin Whales were protected by the IWC from whaling in the North Pacific from 1976 onwards, but small Korean catches continued until the early 1980s.

As to whether Fin Whales recovered from exploitation in the North Pacific, the evidence is, as for the North Atlantic, mixed. Over 24,000 Fin Whales are recorded caught off coastal Japan and the Korean peninsula from 1910 onwards; annual catches peaked at over 1,000 whales in 1915 and declined steadily thereafter. Fin Whales appear to be rare there now (Miyashita et al. 1995, Kim et al. 2004). Similar patterns of apparent exhaustion of stocks occurred elsewhere. For example, about 4,000 fin whales were taken by stations in British Columbia, western Canada, until catches ceased in 1967, with signs of rapid decline in the last 10 years of operation (Gregr et al. 2000).

Gulf of California
This genetically isolated subpopulation was estimated in 2004 from a mark-recapture analysis of photo-identification data at 613 (CI 426-970) (Díaz-Guzman 2006). There are no data on population trend for this subpopulation. Telemetry information shows an all-year residency in the Gulf of California with seasonal latitudinal movements by these whales (Urbán et al. 2005).

East China Sea
There do not appear to be any current or historical estimates of abundance for fin whales in the East China Sea.

Southern Hemisphere
Along with other baleen whales, the IWC has traditionally managed Southern Hemisphere Fin Whales on the basis of six management areas, Areas I through VI, which are longitudinal pie slices 50°-70° wide. The areas were originally chosen as putative management stocks for humpback whales, and later used for all baleen whales, with little or no biological support (Donovan 1991).

Over 725,000 Fin Whales have been recorded caught in the Southern Hemisphere during 1905-76 (IWC 2006b). There was a series of assessments in the 1970s, including a synthesis by Chapman (1976) which was reassessed by Breiwick (1977), and updated (for Areas II-VI) by Allen (1977). A reassessment of Area VI Fin Whales was inconclusive (IWC, 1980).

These assessments were based on a combination of evidence, including trends in CPUE by whaling fleets, sighting rates by Japanese scouting vessels, and inferences on recruitment and mortality rates from age and length data. Their reliability is questionable on various grounds. For example, the IWC Scientific Committee subsequently determined that CPUE data should only be used for stock assessments when the nature of the whaling operations is fully described (IWC 1989). A reanalysis of the historical data using modern methods and insights is warranted.

Less indirect estimates are available from sightings data for more recent times. IWC (1995) gives estimates of 18,000 (CV 0.47) using data from 1966-79 and 15,000 (CV 0.61) using data from 1979-88 for the total population of Fin Whales south of 30°S in summer. These are obtained by extrapolating abundance estimates for the area south of 60°S from the International Decade of Cetacean Research (IDCR) international surveys, to the area south of 30°S using Japanese scouting vessel data. A slightly finer stratification of the same data yielded estimates of 8,387 for 1966-79 and 15,178 for 1979-88 (IWC 1996; no variances given). Despite their low precision, these estimates suggest that the previous assessments of the populations were seriously over-optimistic. Best (2003) suggested a similar conclusion, based on declines of fin whale catch and sighting rates of 89-97% on the former South African winter whaling grounds during 1954-75.

The most recent estimate of 15,178 for 1979-88 is used for the purpose of this assessment and referred to the year 1983, the middle of the period to which it refers. Use of updated results from subsequent IDCR surveys (Branch and Butterworth 2001) would lead to an estimate of 38,185 referenced to the year 1997 (Mori and Butterworth 2006), but use of this for the population trajectory computation would hardly affect the results because the predicted trajectory passes close to this value anyway. (The trajectory shown in Fig.1. is for the mature population, and hence not directly comparable).

Biological parameters and assessment
The generation time for a non-depleted fin whale population is estimated to be 25.9 years (Taylor et al. 2007). The time period of three generations is 1929-2007.

Estimates of age at sexual maturity for female fin whales, based on observed proportions mature by age, are 6-7 years in the Southern Hemisphere from British catches in the 1960s (Lockyer 1972) and Japanese catches in the 1960s and early 1970s (Mizroch 1981), but these values are likely negatively biased due to selection against smaller animals. For the North Atlantic, Gunnlaugsson and Víkingsson (2006) estimated an average of 8.9 years from catches off Iceland during 1967-89, but with some indication of an increase over time from 7.5 years during 1967-78 to 9.25 years during 1979-89. Aguilar et al. (1988) estimated 7.9 years using the same method from catches off Spain during 1979-84. Slightly different values are obtained using alternative methods. There do not seem to be any precise values for the North Pacific, but Kimura et al. (1958) estimated 8-12 years. For the purpose of this assessment, an age at maturity of eight years is assumed, corresponding to an age at first reproduction of nine years. The values of other biological parameters (age at first capture, net recruitment rate, and natural mortality rate) were taken from the previous Scientific Committee assessments (Allen 1977).

Because the available published assessments for this species are not up to date, an updated population assessment is conducted here to enable assessment of the population reduction over the period 1929-2007 relative to the A criterion. While the available data do not permit a scientifically rigorous estimation of the extent of population reduction, it is reasonable to use conventional population assessment methods to provide a crude indication of the extent of possible reduction relative to the criteria. A conventional deterministic age-structured model with an age at first capture (“recruitment”) (ar) and an age at first reproduction (am), and linear density-dependence was applied to the North Pacific, North Atlantic and Southern Hemisphere regions separately. The parameter values are listed in Table 1 in the supplementary material (which forms an integral part of this assessment). The starting year was 1874 in the North Atlantic and 1900 in the North Pacific and Southern Hemisphere. The sex ratio of the population and catches is assumed to be 50:50. The results of this population assessments can be found in the supplementary material, which forms an integral part of this assessment.
For further information about this species, see 2478_Balaenoptera_physalus.pdf.
A PDF viewer such as Adobe Reader is required.
Current Population Trend:Unknown
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:The available quantitative evidence suggests that the fin whale is a catholic feeder, sometimes preying heavily on fish but mostly on crustaceans. In Icelandic catches, 96% contained krill only, 2.5% a mixture of krill and fish, and 1.6% fish only (Sigurjónsson and Víkingsson 1997), while only one of 267 fin whales caught in the northeast Pacific off British Columbia, Canada, contained fish (Flinn et al. 2002), and over 99% of stomachs with food in the Antarctic contained krill (Kawamura 1994). On the other hand, Overholtz and Nicolas (1979) reported apparent feeding by fin whales on American sand lance (sand eel) Ammodytes americanus in the northwest Atlantic, and Mitchell (1975) found that capelin comprised 80-90% of prey in fin whales caught off Newfoundland. Capelin abundance is extremely variable over time, and Fin Whales may feed opportunistically on capelin in high-capelin years.

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Large-scale commercial harvesting of this species has ceased, but continues at a smaller scale in the North Atlantic and Antarctic.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Prior to the advent of modern whaling in the late 19th century, Fin Whales were largely immune from human predation because they were too hard to catch. Fin Whales were depleted worldwide by commercial whaling in the 20th century. Fin Whales have been protected in the Southern Hemisphere and North Pacific since 1975, and catches ceased in the North Atlantic by 1990, except for small “aboriginal subsistence” catches off Greenland. Commercial catches resumed off Iceland in 2006, with nine fin whales being taken that year. A Japanese fleet resumed experimental catches of Fin Whales in the Antarctic in 2005, taking 10 whales each during 2005/06 and 2006/07, with plans to take 50 per year from the 2007/08 season (IWC 2006a). It seems unlikely that catching of fin whales will return to the high levels of previous years, not least due to the limited market demand for whale products.

Fin Whales are one of the more commonly recorded species of large whale reported in vessel collisions (Laist et al. 2001). Five fatal collisions were recorded off the US east coast during 2000-04 (Cole et al. 2006). Collisions with vessels appear to be a significant, but not necessarily unsustainable, source of mortality for the Mediterranean population (Panigada et al. 2006, Reeves and Notarbartolo di Sciara 2006).

Fin Whales are occasionally caught in fishing gear as a by-catch. Four deaths and serious injuries from this source were reported from the eastern US coast during 2000-04 (Cole et al. 2006); recent Japanese Progress Reports to the IWC ( reported about one Fin Whale by-caught per year on average.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions:

The IWC set catch limits at zero for fin whales in the North Pacific and Southern Hemisphere from 1976. The IWC adopted a provision (popularly known as the commercial whaling moratorium) in 1982 to set all catch limits for commercial whaling to zero from1986. This provision does not apply to Norway or the Russian Federation which have objected to this provision. Iceland also considers itself not bound by the provision, based on a reservation attached to its adherence to the treaty governing the IWC. Limited “aboriginal subsistence” whaling is permitted by the IWC for Fin Whales in Greenland.

Fin Whales are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), but this does not apply to Iceland, Norway and Japan, who hold reservations. Fin whales are also listed on Appendices I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). Under the Agreement for Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black and Mediterranean Seas (ACCOBAMS), fin whales in the Mediterranean, along with other cetaceans, are protected from deliberate killing by signatories to the agreement.

Classifications [top]

9. Marine Neritic -> 9.1. Marine Neritic - Pelagic
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
10. Marine Oceanic -> 10.1. Marine Oceanic - Epipelagic (0-200m)
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
3. Species management -> 3.1. Species management -> 3.1.1. Harvest management

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
In-Place Species Management
  Harvest management plan:Yes
In-Place Education
  Included in international legislation:Yes
  Subject to any international management/trade controls:Yes
4. Transportation & service corridors -> 4.3. Shipping lanes
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.1. Intentional use: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.2. Intentional use: (large scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Past, Unlikely to Return ♦ scope:Whole (>90%) ♦ severity:Very Rapid Declines ⇒ Impact score:Past Impact 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.3. Unintentional effects: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
1. Research -> 1.5. Threats
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends

♦  Food - human
 National : ✓ 

♦  Sport hunting/specimen collecting
 National : ✓ 

Bibliography [top]

Aguilar, A., Olmos, M. and Lockyer, C. H. 1988. Sexual maturity in fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) caught off Spain. Reports of the International Whaling Commission 38: 317-322.

Allen, K. R. 1977. Updated estimates of fin whale stocks. Reports of the International Whaling Commission 27: 221.

Angliss, R. P. and Outlaw, R. B. 2004. Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus): Northeast Pacific Stock. Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Reports. Office of Protected Resources NOAA Fisheries.

Anonymous. 2005. Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus): Western North Atlantic Stock. Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Reports.. Office of Protected Resources.NOAA Fisheries.

Barlow, J. 2003. Preliminary estimates of the abundance of cetaceans along the U.S. west coast: 1991-2001. Southwest Fisheries Center Administrative Report LJ-03-03: 31 pp.

Barlow, J. 2006. Cetacean abundance in Hawaiian waters during summer/fall 2002. Southwest Fisheries Center Administrative Report LJ-03-13: 20 pp.

Bérubé, M., Aguilar, A., Dendato, D., Larsen, F., Notarbartolo Di Sciara, G., Sears, R., Singurjonsson, J., Urban-R., J. and Palsbøll, P. J. 1998. Population genetic structure of North Atlantic, Mediterranean Sea and Sea of Cortez fin whales, Balaenoptera physalus (Linnaeus, 1758): analysis of mitochondrial and nuclear loci. Molecular Ecology 7: 585-599.

Bérubé, M., Urbán, J., Dizon, A. E., Brownell Jr., R. L. and Palsbøll, P. J. 2002. Genetic identification of a small and highly isolated population of fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico. Conservation Genetics 3: 183-190.

Best, P. B. 1994. A review of the catch statistics for modern whaling in southern Africa, 1908-1930. Reports of the International Whaling Commission 44: 467-485.

Best, P.B. 2003. How low did they go? An historical comparison of indices of abundance for some baleen whales on the Durban whaling ground. International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee.

Branch, T.A. and Butterworth, D.S. 2001. Estimates of abundance south of 60°S for cetacean species sighted frequently on the 1978/79 to 1997/98 IWC/IDCR-SOWER sighting surveys. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 3(3): 251-270.

Branch, T. A. and Butterworth, D. S. 2006. Assessment of the East Greenland–Iceland fin whale population using a four-area model. Joint NAMMCO/IWC Scientific Workshop on the catch history, stock structure and abundance of North Atlantic fin whales: 33 pp.. Reykjavik, Iceland.

Breiwick, J. M. 1977. Analysis of the Antarctic fin whale stock in Area I. Reports of the Internatioanl Whaling Commission 27: 124-129.

Buckland, S. T., Cattanach, K. L. and Lens, S. 1992. Fin whale abundance in the eastern North Atlantic, estimated from Spanish NASS-89 data. Reports of the International Whaling Commission 42: 457-460.

Chapman, D. G. 1976. Estimates of stocks (original, current, MSY level and MSY) (in thousands). Reports of the International Whaling Commission 26: 230-234.

Clark, C. W. 1995. Application of US Navy underwater hydrophone arrays for scientific research on whales. Reports of the International Whaling Commission 45: 210-212.

Clarke, R. 2004. Pygmy fin whales. Marine Mammal Science 20(2): 329-334.

Cole, T., Hartley, D. and Garron, M. 2006. Mortality and serious injury determinations for large whale stocks along the eastern seaboard of the United States 2000-2004.

Díaz-Guzman, C. F. 2006. Abundancia y movimientos del rorcual común, Balaenoptera physalus, en el Golfo de California. Thesis, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Donovan, G. P. 1991. A review of IWC stock boundaries. Reports of the International Whaling Commission 13: 39-68.

Ensor, P., Komiya, H., Beasley, I., Fukutome, K., Olson, P. and Tsuda, Y. 2006. 2006-2007 International Whaling Commission-Southern Ocean Whale and Ecosystem Research (IWC-SOWER) Cruise, Paper SC/59/IA1 presented to the IWC Scientific Committee, May 2007. International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee.

Flinn, R. D., Trites, A. W., Gregr, E. J. and Perry, R. I. 2002. Diets of fin, sei, and sperm whales in British Columbia: An analysis of commercial whaling records, 1963-1967. Marine Mammal Science 18(3): 663-679.

Forcada, J., Aguilar, A., Hammond, P., Pastor, X. and Aguilar, R. 1996. Distribution and abundance of fin whales (Baleanoptera physalus) in the western Mediterranean Sea during the summer. Journal of Zoology (London) 238: 23-34.

Fujino, K. 1960. Immunogenetic and marking approaches to identifying subpopulations of the North Pacific whales. Scientific Reports of the Whales Research Institute 15: 85-142.

Gregr, E. J., Nichol, L., Ford, J. K. B., Ellis, G. and Trites, A. W. 2000. Migration and population structure of northeastern Pacific whales off coastal British Columbia: An analysis of commercial whaling records from 1908-1967. Marine Mammal Science 16(4): 699-727.

Gunnlaugsson, T. and Vikingsson, G. A. 2006. Analysis of biological parameters in fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) with respect to segregation on the whaling grounds west of Iceland. International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee.

International Whaling Commission. 1977. Report of the Working Group on North Atlantic Whales. Report of the International Whaling Commission 27: 369-387.

International Whaling Commission. 1980. Report of fin whale Area VI sub-committee. Report of the International Whaling Commission 30: 110-111.

International Whaling Commission. 1989. Report of the Comprehensive Assessment Workshop on Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE), Rekjavík, 16-20 March 1987. Report of the International Whaling Commission 11: 15-20.

International Whaling Commission. 1995. Report of the subcommittee on Southern Hemisphere baleen whales. Journal of Cetcaean Research and Management 45: 123.

International Whaling Commission. 1996. Report of the subcommittee on Southern Hemisphere baleen whales. Report of the International Whaling Commission 46: 117-138.

International Whaling Commission. 2006. Report of the Scientific Committee. Journal of Cetcaean Research and Management 8: 49.

International Whaling Commission. 2006. The IWC Summary Catch Database.

International Whaling Commission. 2007. Report of the Scientific Committee. Journal of Cetcaean Research and Management 9: 1–73.

International Whaling Commission. 2007. Report of the Subcommittee on the Revised Management Procedure. Journal of Cetcaean Research and Management 9: 88-128.

IUCN. 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (ver. 2013.1). Available at: (Accessed: 12 June 2013).

Kawamura, A. 1994. A review of baleen whale feeding in the southern ocean. Reports of the International Whaling Commission 44: 261-272.

Kimura, S., Nishiwaki, M. and Hibiya, T. 1958. Growth of fin whale in the northern Pacific. Scientific Reports of the Whales Research Institute 13: 97-133.

Kim, Z. G., Sohn, H. and An, Y.-R. 2004. Cruise report of the Korean whale sighting survey in the East Sea, September 2003. International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee.

Laist, D. W., Knowlton, A. R., Mead, J. G., Collet, A. S. and Podesta, M. 2001. Collisions between ships and whales. Marine Mammal Science 17(1): 35-75.

Lockyer, C. 1972. The age at sexual maturity of the southern fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) using annual layer counts in the ear plug. Journal du Conseil / Conseil International pour l'Exploration de la Mer 34(2): 276-294.

Mackintosh, N. A. 1965. The stocks of whales. Fishing News Ltd., London, UK.

Mitchell E. D. 1972. Assessment of Northwest Atlantic fin whale stocks. Reports of the International Whaling Commission 22: 111-118.

Miyahsita, T. 2004. Cruise report of the common minke whale sighting surveys in the Sea of Okhotsk in 2003. International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee, Sorrento, Italy.

Miyashita, T., Kato, H. and Kasuya, T. 1996. Worldwide Map of Cetacean Distribution Based on Japanese Sighting Data. National Research Institute of Far Seas Fisheries.

Mizroch S. A. 1981. Analyses of some biological parameters of the Antarctic fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus). 31: 425-434.

Moore, M. J., Berrow, S. D., Jensen, B. A., Carr, P., Sears, R., Rowntree, V. J., Payne, R. and Hamilton, P. K. 1999. Relative abundance of large whales around South Georgia (1979-1998). Marine Mammal Science 15(4): 1287-1302.

Moore, S. E., Waitze, J. M. Mazzuca, L. L. and Hobbs, R. C. 2002. Distribution and comparative estimates of cetacean abundance on the central and south-eastern Bering Sea shelf with observations on bathymetric and prey associations. Program Oceanography 55(1-2): 249-262.

Mori, M. and Butterworth D. S. 2006. A first step towards modelling the krill-predator dynamics of the Antarctic ecosystem. CCAMLR Science 13: 217-277.

North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission. Undated. Status of Marine Mammals in the North Atlantic: the Fin Whale. Tromsø, Norway Available at:

Notarbartolo Di Sciara, G., Zanardelli, M., Jahoda, M., Panigada, S. and Airoldi, S. 2003. The fin whale Balaenoptera physalus (L. 1758) in the Mediterranean Sea. Mammal Review 33: 105-150.

Ohsumi, S. and Wada, S. 1974. Status of whale stocks in the North Pacific, 1972. Reports of the International Whaling Commission 24: 114-126.

Øien, N. 2003. Distribution and abundance of large whales in the Northeast Atlantic, 1995. NAMMCO Scientific Committee.

Øien, N. 2004. Distribution and abundance of large whales in the Northeast Atlantic, based on data from partial coverages 1996-2001. NAMMCO Scientific Committee.

Overholtz W. J. and Nicolas J. R. 1979. Apparent feeding by the fin whale Balaenoptera physalus and the humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae on the American sand lance Ammodytes americanus in the northwest Atlantic. US Fisheries Bulletin 88(4): 687-696.

Palsbøll P. J., Bérubé M., Aguilar A., Notarbartolo di Sciara G. and Nielsen R. 2004. Discerning between recurrent gene flow and recent divergence under a finite-site mutation model applied to North Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) populations. Evolution 58(3): 670-675.

Panigada, S., Pesante, G., Zanardelli, M., Capoulade, F., Gannier, A. and Weinrich, M. 2006. Mediterranean fin whales at risk from fatal ship strikes. Marine Pollution Bulletin 52: 1287-1298.

Perry S. L., DeMaster D. P. and Silber G. K. 1999. The fin whale. Marine Fish Review 61(1): 44-51.

Reeves, R. R. and Notarbartolo Di Sciara, G. 2006. The status and distribution of cetaceans in the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea. IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation, Malaga, Spain.

Rice, D.W. 1998. Marine Mammals of the World: Systematics and Distribution. Society for Marine Mammalogy, Lawrence, Kansas.

Sanpera, C. and Aguilar, A. 1992. Modern whaling off the Iberian Peninsula during the 20th century. Reports of the International Whaling Commission 42: 723-730.

Sigurjonsson, J. and Vikingsson, G. A. 1997. Seasonal abundance of and estimated food consumption by cetaceans in Icelandic and adjacent waters. Journal of Northwest Atlantic Fishery Science 22: 271-287.

Tamura, T., Fujise, Y, Mogoe, T., Kanda, N., Yasunaga, G., Konishi, K., Kiwada, H., Ogihara, M., Hasegawa, A., Kitajima, M., Sugiyama, T., Sasaki, T., Mori, M., Teraoka, T., Tsunekawa, M., Sukutome, K., Zharikov, K. A., Na, J-H., Tohyama, D., Inagake, D. and Kawahara, S. 2005. Cruise report of the Japanese whale research program under special permit in the western North Pacific – Phase II (JARPN II) in 2004 (part I) – offshore component. International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee.

Taylor, B. L., Chivers, S. J., Larese, J. and Perrin, W. F. 2007. Generation length and percent mature estimates for IUCN assessments of Cetaceans. NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center, La Jolla, California. Administrative Report LJ-07-01.

Tønnessen J. N. and Johnsen A. O. 1982. The History of Modern Whaling. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA, USA.

Urbán R. J., Rojas-Bracho, L., Guerrero-Ruiz, M., Jaramillo-Legorreta, A. and Findley, L. T. 2005. Cetacean Biodiversity and Conservation in the Gulf of California. In: J. L. E. Cartron, G. Ceballos and R. S. Felger (eds), Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Conservation in Northern Mexico, pp. 52–86. Oxford University Press, New York, USA.

Ward, N., Moscrop, A. and Carlson, C. 2001. Elements for the development of a Marine Mammal Action plan for the wider Caribbean: a review of marine mammal distribution. Available at: COP/English Docs/IG20-inf3en.doc.

Watkins, W. A., Daher, M. A., Reppucci, G. M., George, J. E., Martin, D. L., Dimarzio, N. A. and Gannon, D. P. 2000. Seasonality and distribution of whale calls in the North Pacific. Oceanography 13: 62-67.

Weinrich, M. T., Panigada, S. and Guinet, C. 2006. ACCOBAMS Workshop on Large Whale Ship Strikes in the Mediterranean Sea. Report to the Secretariat of ACCOBAMS. Secretariat of ACCOBAMS, Monaco.

Zerbini, A. N., Secchi, E. R., Siciliano, S. and Simoes-Lopes, P. C. 1997. A review of the occurrence and distribution of whales of the genus Balaenoptera along the Brazilian coast. Reports of the International Whaling Commission 47: 407-417.

Zerbini, A. N., Waite, J. M., Laake, J. L. and Wade, P. R. 2006. Abundance, trends and distribution of baleen whales off Western Alaska and the central Aleutian Islands. Deep-Sea Research 53: 1772-1790.

Citation: Reilly, S.B., Bannister, J.L., Best, P.B., Brown, M., Brownell Jr., R.L., Butterworth, D.S., Clapham, P.J., Cooke, J., Donovan, G.P., Urbán, J. & Zerbini, A.N. 2013. Balaenoptera physalus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2013: e.T2478A44210520. . Downloaded on 18 November 2017.
Disclaimer: To make use of this information, please check the <Terms of Use>.
Feedback: If you see any errors or have any questions or suggestions on what is shown on this page, please provide us with feedback so that we can correct or extend the information provided