The Naming of Things: Fin Whales

aka The naming of the Whale with a Fin on its back

Fin whales, or fin-back whales – depending on where you’re from, are yet another entry in our “on the nose” naming community. There are so many things to write home about when it comes to Fin Whales but unfortunately the second largest whale in the world gets its common name not from its size, it’s unique asymmetrical colouration, or it’s seismic-frequency vocalizations. Nope, the fin whale is named for… the dorsal fin on its back.

Photo by Kathryn Taylor

You might immediately think there’s something distinct about Fin Whale fins right? Wrong. It’s not specially coloured, shaped, patterned, or sized. All in all it’s a pretty standard dorsal fin as dorsal find go. Almost every cetacean has one.

At least their scientific name, Balaenoptera physalus, has a bit more substance to it. We’ve looked at the origin of Balaenoptera before here at the Naming of Things… this term comes from the Latin “balaena” (whale) and Ancient Greek “pteron” (fin). So thus far we’re still looking at a name that basically means fin whales BUT the word physalus comes from the Greek “physa” meaning “blows” and refers to the prominent blow of the species, which can reach over 20 feet high!

Photo by Mandy Houston

Read our Fin Whale stories here and don’t forget you can share your encounters of any whales, dolphin or porpoise species here.

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