Humpback whales are part of the suborder of cetaceans called Mysticetes, which describes whales that use baleen to filter-feed. All baleen whales lack teeth, instead having sheets of baleen, a hard but flexible material made of keratin just like human hair and fingernails. The length and number of baleen plates differs from species to species. Baleen whales take huge gulps of food and seawater, then they close their mouths and use their tongues to force the water out of their mouths, trapping the food in the baleen.
Minke whales are the second smallest species of baleen whale, with the pygmy right whale taking the number one spot. Minke whales have a slender torpedo shape, with a very triangular shaped head. They have very small dorsal fins that hook sharply backwards. Minkes average 8 to 9m (26-30 feet) in length and weigh 8-10 tons. Their baleen plates which they use to filter-feed small prey such as krill, herring and sand lance, measures 30 cm (12 inches) in length. They are dark coloured on their dorsal side and white on their ventral side. The subspecies that occupies the North Pacific is unique in having a white band on their short pectoral fins.
Gray whales are a type of baleen whale who make North Pacific waters their home during spring and summer months. Gray whales have the longest migration of any marine mammal, traveling over 20,000km (12,500 miles) round trip on their annual migration from the Bering Sea to Mexico and back. Gray whales like so many other species of mammals, fish and birds, feast on the rich blooms of plankton and fish eggs in the cold northern Pacific Ocean. They then travel to warmer southern waters off the Baja Peninsula of Mexico to specific lagoons to give birth and mate.
It is a common mistake for people to assume that the words porpoise and dolphin are synonyms describing the same animals. In fact, porpoises and dolphins are two separate groups of cetaceans with many physical differences. To start, porpoises are much shorter and more muscular than dolphins, making them the fastest type of cetaceans in the world. Porpoises possess very flat and tiny teeth, while dolphins have large, conical teeth. The last major difference between the two has to do with the number of blow hole openings, porpoises having two nostrils like baleen whales and dolphins having one nostril like the toothed whales. Both groups of marine mammals are genetically unique and no known cross breeding occurs between porpoises and dolphins.
Porpoises are often confused with being the same animals as dolphins, but the two groups of marine mammals maintain significant differences. Porpoises are shorter, stockier animals with flat faces, as opposed to the curved beak of dolphins. Porpoises have two blow holes, whereas dolphins have one. Porpoises have tiny, flat teeth, very different from the large, conical teeth found in dolphins. Porpoise and dolphin species differ genetically and do not interbreed.
Although Pacific White-Sided Dolphins are not rare to southern Vancouver Island and Puget Sound, WA, they are seldom seen in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Their range extends from the Aleutian Islands south down the Pacific coast. The population in the North Pacific numbers 30,000 to 50,000 individuals.