Balaenopteridae – Rorquals

The family of majestic giants of the ocean, the largest animals to have ever lived

This family encompasses a variety of species, including the blue whale, the largest animal ever to have existed, along with the fin whale, humpback whale, and several other species. The distinctive feature of rorquals is the presence of longitudinal throat pleats or grooves extending from beneath the lower jaw to the belly. These grooves are a remarkable adaptation that enables the rorquals to engage in a feeding technique known as lunge feeding.

During lunge feeding, a rorqual will accelerate towards a school of fish or a cloud of krill and open its mouth widely, often to an angle of nearly 90 degrees. This action, coupled with the expansion of the throat pleats, allows the whale to take in a colossal volume of water and prey in seconds. Once the mouth is closed, the whale uses its massive tongue to push the water out through its baleen plates, trapping the food inside to be swallowed. This efficient feeding strategy allows rorquals to consume several tons of food daily, which is necessary to sustain their immense size.

Another fascinating aspect of rorqual behavior is their complex vocalizations, particularly evident in the humpback whale. These whales are known for their elaborate songs, not random noises but structured sequences that can last hours. Each population of humpback whales has its unique song, which evolves from season to season. Scientists believe these songs play a role in communication among whales, particularly in mating contexts. The fact that songs are shared within but vary between different populations across the oceans highlights the cultural richness of these marine giants.

Despite their size and strength, rorquals face significant challenges in the modern world. Shipping traffic often disrupts their migration routes and feeding grounds, leading to fatal collisions. Entanglement in fishing gear is another pervasive threat, causing injury or death to many whales annually.