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At least 15 species of whale have been recorded to date in the Falkland Islands. Of those, seven species are baleen whales and catch their prey (crustaceans and small fish) by filtering it through baleen plates in their mouths. An additional eight species are toothed whales, and have teeth for capturing larger fish and squid. These include seven species of poorly-known beaked whales, which have been documented either as rare sightings at sea, or as strandings in the Islands. Some of the whale species most commonly observed in the coastal waters around the Falklands are described below.

Sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis

Distributed globally, sei whales migrate seasonally between summer feeding grounds located in cooler waters, and winter breeding areas located in the (sub)tropics. They do not range as far into cold polar waters as many other baleen whales.

They are a large (averaging 15 m long) and sleek species, with a tall dorsal fin that is located two-thirds of the way along the back from the head. Their blows are tall and columnar.

Sei whales are the most commonly observed whale in coastal Falklands’ waters, using the area during summer and autumn (primarily between November and June), to feed on squat lobster krill and other crustaceans.

Sei whales are one of Falklands Conservation’s key study species

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Southern right whale (Eubalaena australis

Southern right whales occur only in the Southern Hemisphere, where they migrate between summer sub-Antarctic feeding areas and winter breeding grounds located in South America, Africa and Australasia.

They have a broad body without a dorsal fin, a V-shaped blow, and a unique head pattern of hardened yellow skin called callosities.

Populations have steadily increased since the cessation of whaling.

They use oceanic Falkland waters year-round for different activities, including migrating during spring and autumn, and for feeding during summer. During the late autumn and winter (May-August), aggregations of right whales occur in nearshore waters for socialising and mating.

Southern right whales are one of Falklands Conservation’s key study species

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Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae

Humpback whales are widely distributed across the globe. They undertake some of the longest known seasonal migrations, moving between polar feeding areas and winter tropical breeding grounds.

Their characteristics include the raised hump of tissue on their backs on which the dorsal fin is located, long flippers, a series of raised bumps on their heads, and white colouration on the underside of their tails.

Humpbacks have increased in the Falklands since 2021, when an influx of mostly juveniles occurred. They appear to use the region for feeding, and have been seen patrolling kelp beds and tidal rips where they lunge feed on shoals of small fish.

Minke whales

Two species of minke whale occur throughout the southern hemisphere: the Antarctic minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis) and the common minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata).

Both species make seasonal migrations between warm winter breeding areas and cooler summer feeding grounds.

They are small in size (up to 10m) with pointed heads and falcate dorsal fins. The common minke whale also has white flipper patches.

In the Falklands, minke whales are usually seen alone. They are found from nearshore waters close to kelp beds, to deep oceanic areas. Sightings in Falkland waters have occurred during most months of the years.

Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)

Fin whales are distributed worldwide, although separate southern and northern hemisphere populations exist. Their occurrence around the Falkland Islands is poorly understood, partly due to potential confusion with the sei whale.

Fin whales can be recognised from their large body size (maximum 27m), sloped dorsal fins, and asymmetric colouration featuring a white lower jaw on the right side of the head.

Around the Falklands, the species appears to be most numerous in waters deeper than 200m, with fewer confirmed sightings from shallow coastal areas. Records occur mostly during the peak of summer, between November and January.

Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus)

Sperm whales are the largest toothed whale species (maximum 19m), and inhabit oceanic waters worldwide. Their distribution differs between the sexes, with cooler regions such as the Falklands occupied primarily by mature males and ‘bachelor pods’ of immature males.

Sperm whales are recognised from their large square-shaped heads, wrinkled skin, low dorsal hump and forward-angled blows. In the Falklands, they occur year-round in deep water (>200m) areas, usually alone or in small groups.

They are known to take Patagonian toothfish from longline fisheries around the Falklands, and these depredations are the focus of ongoing mitigation work.



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