You can make and use our instant taxonomy dials to learn more about the typical characteristics of the eight different NZ whale families. And, it all fits on a pencil!
How is it that a killer whale is a dolphin?
As we have seen whales are divided into two main groups – baleen and toothed. These two groups are broken into smaller and smaller groups until they get down to individual species (and even sub-species like Maui’s dolphin).
Using terms such as “whales”, “dolphins”, and “porpoises” can be misleading when people want a clear picture of how whales are related. The killer whale, for example, is actually the largest member of the dolphin family!
Scientists need to be accurate and consistent in their descriptions. That is why they use specific characteristics to classify life forms such as whales into related groups. This practice is known as taxonomy. It’s an essential tool in understanding the relationships of these different groups including how they relate to fossil whales.
Do all whales have dorsal fins?
Not all whales have dorsal fins, there are two species in New Zealand waters that don’t one is the southern right whale and the other is the southern right whale dolphin, which is how it gets its name. Most dolphins however do have a dorsal fin that sit roughly in the middle of their back.