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The whales and dolphins of Blue Planet II

We're just over halfway through the Blue Planet II series now, and we have already seen bottlenose dolphins, orcas, humpback whales, false killer whales, spinner dolphins, pilot whales and sperm whales! Find out more about each species below. The next episode, titled 'Green Seas' promises humpback whales and dolphins as they race to claim their share of giant shoals of anchovies in Monterey Bay, California.

Here, in alphabetical order, are the whales and dolphins featuring in Blue Planet II. This has taken a little bit of detective work, but if we have missed any, don’t worry - you can easily find a list of all whale and dolphins on our blue planet, including facts and stats about them, in our species guide, down the page on the right. Click on the links for more info.

Australian snubfin dolphin / Beluga whale / Blue whale / Bottlenose dolphin / False killer whale  / Humpback whale / Orca / Pilot whale / Sperm whale  / Spinner dolphin / 

WDC is the leading charity dedicated to the protection of whales and dolphins around the world. Please make a donation, large or small, or adopt a bottlenose dolphin, orca or humpback whale today to help us ensure these amazing, intelligent, charismatic species are protected for future generations.

Amongst the many threats that face whales and dolphins today, marine waste, specifically plastic is a huge concern. We know how important the role of whales and dolphins are to the ecosystem and in their contribution to keeping our oceans alive. Without them, there is no living planet.

Take a look at our notwhalefood site and see what you can do to reduce your plastic consumption.

Australian snubfin dolphins
The Australian snubfin dolphin population are estimated to be in the low thousands and were only recognised as a species in 2005. They are shy creatures, found in small groups, and when startled may dive for long periods. Sometimes they will spyhop, lobtail and roll sideways waving their flippers and when in groups they may perform low playful leaps with a great deal of splashing. They prefer shallow coastal waters and brackish estuaries, generally less than 10m deep. As you know from Blue Planet II, the cameramen were able to film Snubfin dolphins, for what could be the first time, spitting into the air to trick fish into leaping from the water in order to then eat them! Amazing.

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Beluga whales
The beluga whale, or white whale, lives in the Arctic and sub-Arctic. Belugas have long been a source of fascination for many, due to their unique white colouring and lack of a dorsal fin. However, these white whales are born dark grey. It can take up to twelve years before they turn completely white. They are known as the ‘canaries of the sea’ because they make chirping sounds like the little yellow birds. Despite being a 'toothed whale’, beluga whales do not chew their food; instead they swallow their prey whole. The beluga is able to swim backwards.

Beluga whale
Beluga whale

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Blue whales
The blue whale is the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth; they are larger than any of the known dinosaurs. The biggest recorded blue whale was a female in the Antarctic Ocean that was 30.5 m long (more than 3.5 times the length of a double-decker bus and as long as a Boeing 737 plane) with an estimated weight of 144 tonnes (almost the same as 2,000 men).

The tongue alone of a blue whale can weigh as much as an elephant and an entire football team could stand on it! The heart of a blue whale is about the size of a VW Beetle car and weighs up to 450kg. The aorta, a major blood vessel for the heart, is big enough for a human child to crawl through.

A vast blue whale skeleton now welcomes visitors at the Natural History Museum in London.

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Bottlenose dolphins
The bottlenose dolphins featured in Blue Planet II are residents of South Africa and as you saw, surf the waves in their hundreds. However, bottlenose dolphins have a wide distribution and can be found in most oceans, making them the most well-known dolphins around the world. There are even a resident population who live off the north east coast of Scotland during the summer months. They can be seen from the shore as they play, leap and lobtail and at WDC we closely monitor these dolphins from WDC's Scottish Dolphin Centre. You can help our work by adopting a dolphin today, and stay up to date with all of their activity with monthly updates straight to your inbox!

Bottlenose dolphin
Bottlenose dolphin

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False killer whales

Contrary to their name, false killer whales are not directly related to killer whales, or orca. In fact, they are actually a member of the dolphin family. They are often referred to as 'blackfish' along with similar species such as the pygmy killer whale, melon-headed whale, and pilot whale.

The false killer is a fast moving energetic animal, not shy of boats. They are active and playful, often surfacing with their mouth open revealing his/her teeth. They are highly social and form strong bonds and are known to breach, lobtail, and porpoise while swimming energetically in pods of 10-60 individuals. Sometimes they will join together with other pods and create superpods of hundreds of individuals!

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Humpback whales
As you saw with the humpback whales feeding off the coast of Monterey, these whales are very popular with whale watchers because of the acrobatic displays they can put on when they come to the surface. One of the most impressive sights is when they feed together. Male humpback whales sing the most complex, long, and beautiful songs that include recognizable sequences of squeaks, grunts, and other sounds. The songs have the largest range of frequencies used by whales, ranging from 20-9,000 hertz. On the east coast of the US, WDC have an office in Plymouth, Massachusetts, which allows us to regularly monitor the Gulf of Maine humpbacks who visit every summer. You can even adopt a humpback with WDC and stay up to date with all of their activity with monthly updates straight to your inbox!

Breaching humpback whale
Breaching humpback whale

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Did you see the orca and humpback whales feeding in the first episode of Blue Planet II? Take a look again below!

Orcas
Orcas, also known as Killer Whales, are the apex predator of the sea, and the largest member of the dolphin family. They are highly intelligent, highly adaptable and able to communicate and coordinate hunting tactics. They are extremely fast swimmers and have been recorded at speeds of up to 54kph!

WDC is proud to work with OrcaLab in British Columbia, Canada, which is a research lab dedicated to the study of orca in their natural environments. You can adopt an orca with WDC and receive monthly updates from the lab on your adoption orca but also other whale species that inhabit the area throughout the year.

Pod of orcas travelling
Pod of orcas travelling

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Pilot whales

There are currently two recognised species of pilot whale; the short-finned and long-finned. It is very difficult to distinguish the two species from one another at sea. Their ranges however rarely overlap. The short-finned species prefers warm temperate and tropical waters and the long-finned species favours colder temperate conditions. Pilot whales can be seen bow-riding, lobtailing, and spyhopping. Whilst breaching is rare in adults it is more common in young whales.

They are highly sociable and are rarely seen alone, in fact they are often seen forming superpods of hundreds of individuals! Perhaps because of their strong group cohesion, they are one of the most common species to mass strand. One extreme mass-stranding incident included more than 800 pilot whales and sadly stranding events with around 100 individuals are not uncommon.

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Sperm whales

The sperm whale is one of the deepest diving mammals in the world. Typically it makes dives of up to 400 m, but can reach depths of up to 2-3km! It is thought to be able to hold its breath for up to two hours, although 45 minutes is the average dive time. The sperm whale also happens to have the largest brain of any known mammal in existence today. In fact the sperm whales brain weighs 5 times that of a humans brain!

Some sperm whales have scars on their bodies caused by giant squid tentacles during fights. Although sperm whales are known to eat a wide variety of sea creatures, their major prey items are deep-water squid which they are believed to 'catch' by the suction method of eating.

Pottwale
Pottwale

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Spinner dolphins

Spinner dolphins are highly energetic, and capable of amazing leaps and, as indicated by their name, spins. Leaping up to 3m out of the water, they may complete as many as seven revolutions before re-entering the water. They are one of only two recognised species that perform spins when leaping out of the water - the second is the Clymene dolphin. It is thought that the spinning leaps may be a form of communication for the highly social spinner dolphin. They are known to approach boats and bow ride for periods of up to 30 minutes, which is longer than most other dolphin species.

The spinner dolphin generally travel in groups of 5 to 200 individuals, though they have been seen in groups of over 1,000 with other species of dolphins. They often feed at night on small pelagic fish, squid, and shrimp, while resting inshore in coastal waters during the day. Yellow-fin tuna tend to associate with spinner dolphins and spotted dolphins and, which in turn leads to considerable bycatch from the tuna fishery. It is thought that the numbers of spinner dolphins in the eastern tropical Pacific have been reduced to less than one third of their original size with no sign of recovery.

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