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cetacean quick facts

Whales and dolphins belong to the Order Cetacea, commonly called cetaceans. In the Philippines there are 27 species of whales and dolphins belonging to 5 different families: Balaenopteridae, Delphinidae, Kogiidae, Physeteridae, and Ziphiidae. These species occur in almost all waters of the country, ranging from deep offshore seas, coastal waters to estuarine areas.

There are 5 species of baleen whales (Suborder MYSTICETI) and 22 species of toothed whales (Suborder ODONTOCETI) in the Philippines.

Baleen whales are filter feeders. They sieve food from the water with their baleen. Baleen are plates made of keratin that appear like a brush.


A blue whale spotted in the Bohol Sea.


Toothed whales, as the names implies, are cetaceans that have teeth instead of baleen. These include all the other species such as beaked whales (Ziphiidae), sperm and dwarf sperm whales (Physeteridae and Kogiidae) freshwater dolphins, the dolphin species (Delphinidae) and porpoises (Phocoenidae).

whales and dolphins in the philippines

Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus)
Size range of adult: 24 to 33 meters long.
Broad, U-shaped head. Single prominent ridge at the center of the top head with prominent splash guards around the blowhole. Small dorsal fin situated far along its back. Gray/bluish- mottled coloration. Broad or thick tailstock.

Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)
Size range of adult: 23-27 meters long
Head is V-shaped and pointed when viewed from above. Right lower jaw is white. Left lower jaw is black. Dorsal fin taller, more falcate and situated farther forward than in the blue whale. Elongated, streamlined body.

Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera edeni)
Size range of adult: 16.5m (female); 15m (male)
Three distinct ridges on the rostrum. Head is pointed when viewed from above. Body is sleek and streamlined. Erect and strongly sickle-shaped dorsal fin situated on the rear back.

Omura’s whale (Balaenoptera omurai)
Size range of adult: 9-13 meters long
Only one ridge on the rostrum. Dorsal fin small, low and strongly falcate. Streamlined body like the Bryde’s whale but smaller. Coloration is dark above and off-white below.

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)
Size range of adult: 11-17 meters long
Very long flippers with a series of bumps along the edges. Fluke with serrated edges. Distinct bumps on the head. Low dorsal fin sitting on a “hump” on the back. Very robust body which is black or dark gray above and white below.

Short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus)
Size range of adult: 5.5m (female); 7.2 m (male)
Broad-based, falcate dorsal fin. Bulbous head. Heavy/thick peduncle.

False killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens)
Size range of adult: 5m (female); 6m (male)
No snout. Distinctive “S” shaped leading edge of flippers. Long, slender, cigar-shaped body. Dark gray to black with faint light gray patch on the chest.

Melon-headed whale (Peponocephala electra)
Size range of adult: 2.78m
Rounded melon, flat lower jaw. Lips and tip of lower jaw light gray or white. Small teeth. Sickle-shaped flippers. Body is charcoal gray to nearly black. Light colored anchor-shaped patch on the underside of the head. Larger animals have black triangular “mask” on the face.

Pygmy killer whale (Feresa attenuata)
Size range of adult: 2.6 m
Rounded head. Rounded lower jaw. Large teeth. White lips. Flippers have rounded tips with convex leading edge. Body color dark gray to black.

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References:
Heaney, L.R., Dolar, M.L., Balete, D.S., Esselstyn, J.A. Rickart, E.A., and Sedlock, J.L. 2010. Synopsis of Philippine Mammals. www.fieldmuseum.org Jefferson, T.A. Webber, M.A., and Pitman, R.L. 2008. Marine mammals of the world. Elsevier, Amsterdam, 573 pp.