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Cetacean Evolution

Around 30 million years ago, cetaceans diverged into two parvorders, baleen whales (Mysticeti) and toothed whales (Odontoceti). These two parvorders differing regarding both how they catch food and th type of food they eat.

Baleen whale (Mysticete)

  • 15 species worldwide

  • Baleen plates used to sieve food items

  • Double blowhole


  • Humpback whale

  • Blue whale

  • Grey whale

  • Minke whale

  • Right whale


Toothed whale (Odontocete)

  • 73 species worldwide

  • Set of conical teeth (feed on fish and squid primarily)

  • Single blowhole

  • Use echolocation to hunt


  • Bottlenose dolphin

  • Killer whale

  • Sperm whale

  • Common dolphin

  • Risso's dolphin

UK Cetaceans

There are 28 different species of cetacean (whales, dolphins and porpoise) known to occur around coastlines of the United Kingdom.

The most common of these species being: 

  • Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

  • Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)

  • Sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis)

  • Minke whale  (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

  • Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus)

  • Northern bottlenose whale (Hyperodon ampullatus)

  • Killer whale (Orcinus orca)

  • Long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas)

  • Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus)

  • Atlantic white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus)

  • White-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris)

  • Common dolphin (Delphinus delphis)

  • Striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba)

  • Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

  • Harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena)

North American Cetaceans

Cetaceans can be round all around the coastlines of the United States and Canada, with the type of species depending on the location (North Atlantic, Pacific). 

Some of the most common species of the east coast:

  • Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

  • Killer whale (Orcinus orca)

  • North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis)

  • Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus)

  • False killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens)

Some of the most common species of the west coast:

  • Killer whale (Orcinus orca)

  • Beluga (Delphinapterus leucas)

  • Baird's beaked whale (Berardius bairdii)

  • Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus)

  • Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

  • Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus)

  • North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica)

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False KW.png
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For more information on these and other cetacean species, visit NOAA Fisheries species directory.

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