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Fin-al fantasy

Next to the blue whale, the fin whale is the second-largest mammal in the world. Unlike blue whales, fin whales have pointed heads and streamline bodies, allowing them to move quickly in the water.

Photo Description - Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus) Photo Credit – Chris Buelow from Massachusetts, United States, CC BY-NC 2.0, via Creative Commons

Each whale can consume up to 1800 kg of food in a day. Fin whales belong to the baleen whale family and as such their diet tends to include krill, plankton, small fish and occasionally squid. Fin whales in the Southern Hemisphere appear to have an overwhelming preference for krill, which puts them into competition with other baleen whales in the Antarctic region. As a unique feeding technique, fin whales have been observed to herd schools of fish into dense clusters by circling at high speeds before engulfing the ball of fish whole. Talk about being efficient!

Fin whales are typically found alone, but occasionally form groups of less than ten. Like blue whales, fin whales communicate through vocalizations.

In the early days of whaling, fin whales were almost completely immune from whalers because of their speed and preference for cold, open ocean, although they were occasionally hunted in small numbers. However, as other slower, more unfortunate whales were depleted and faster steam-powered boats came into existence, fin whales became a new target for whaling. Fin whales were hunted in large numbers up until 1975, and as a result are now classified as a vulnerable species. Today, the biggest threats to fin whales are fast-moving ships. Collisions with ships injure these whales, leaving them stranded. The increase of ocean noise due to ships also impedes recovery of the fin whale populations as this noise hinders communication between male and female whales, making it difficult to find a mate.

The genome assembly scaffolded to 22 chromosomes shared today was generated using the muscle sample provided to us by Barbie Halaska, Necropsy Manager at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California. As the world’s largest marine mammal hospital, the Center generates research findings and scientific outputs at volumes similar to top academic institutions. In addition, the Center serves as a resource and thought leader in animal care, education and scientific communities.

This sample was collected by The Marine Mammal Center under the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Program (MMHSPR) Permit No. 18786-04 issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA). The work at DNA Zoo was performed under Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program (MMHSRP) Permit No. 18786-03.

We thank Barbie Halaska and Ben Neely for their help with this genome assembly!

Learn more about the impact of The Marine Mammal Center’s scientific research and fin whales by visiting the Center’s website at

This is a $1K genome assembly. See our Methods page for more details on the procedure. We gratefully acknowledge Pawsey Supercomputing Centre and DNA Zoo Australia team at the University of Western Australia for computational and analyses support for this genome assembly.

Check out the interactive contact map of the 22 chromosomes of the fin whale below. For more information, details and data including the draft and the chromosome-length fastas and the mitochondrion sequence please visit the corresponding assembly page!

Blog by: Daniel Lim, Parwinder Kaur, Barbie Halaska and Giancarlo Rulli

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