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Sei Whale: The Cheetah Of The Ocean And Third-Largest Rorqual

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Published on May 7th, 2013 | by Yellow Magpie


Sei Whale: The Cheetah Of The Ocean And Third-Largest Rorqual

Sei Whale Photo By NOAA

Sei Whales are among the biggest cetaceans. The third largest of the rorquals whales their streamlined bodies can propel them through the water at high speeds.

Sei Whale Appearance

Sei whales are streamlined animals. Their pectoral fins are much smaller than other whales to minimise drag and allow them to push their bodies quickly.

The Sei whale is a dark grey/deep navy colour while its stomach is a lighter grey with patches of white. Sei whales frequently have circular scars on their bodies which are caused by the parasitic cookie-cutter sharks. Like many whales, the female Sei whale is much larger than the male counterpart.

For all intents and purposes they look almost identical to the smaller Bryde’s whale except for ridges on their upper jaw or rostrum.

Voracious Diet

Sei whales feed on krill, fish and small crustaceans. Due to their large size they have voracious appetites and can consume more than 900 kilograms of food a day.

As rorquals, Sei whales have longitudinal folds of skin which allows them to expand their mouths to take in vast quantities of prey and water. They also have the finest baleen hairs of all the baleen whales. Sei whales use their baleen to trap and sieve their prey from the water.

The Sei whale is one of the fastest of all the whales. Capable of bursting to speeds of 50 kilometres per hour (31 miles) it is on a par with the Blue whale. The Sei whale has been nicknamed ‘The Cheetah of the Ocean’ because of its short-lived sprinting capabilities.

Sei Whale Dorsal Fin Photo By Andrea Centini

Behaviour And Vocalisations

Sei whales are frequent vocalisers. They emit low-frequency sounds that are both long-lived and powerful. Despite study to determine the meaning behind these utterances, scientists still have little idea about the significance of these vocalisations.

Sei whales are usually found in either pairs or small groups of up to five or six individuals.


Sei whales follow their sources of food harbouring in chilly waters during the summer while migrating to warmer temperate oceans during the winter. Little is known about preferred migratory routes or whether or not some whales make annual trips to the same locations. One Sei whale is noted to have travelled over 4,000 kilometres (2,500) in a three-month period.


Since the advent of commercial whaling more than a quarter of a million Sei whales were killed by whalers. The commercial whaling of these whales had a devastating effect on the population with catches in 1971 numbering between ten and 14 per cent of peak hauls.

Currently, there is estimated to be a population of 80,000 Sei whales – less than one-third of what existed in pre-whaling times. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the species as endangered which means they have a high risk of extinction in the wild.

Despite the ban on killing and their endangered status Japan still actively hunts Sei whales for ‘scientific purposes’.

Vital Statistics

  • Sei Whales can be over 16 metres (53 feet) in length.
  • They can weigh as much as 29 tonnes.
  • Sei Whales are found in all oceans though they seem to prefer temperate waters.
  • They can live to 65 years.

Recommended Reading

Visit Wikipedia for more information on the Sei Whale.

Check out Yellow Magpie’s The Whales: Kings Of The Cetaceans, Fin Whale: The Giant Speedster Of The Oceans and Our Love Affair With Our Favourite Cetacean for further insight into Whales and their cetacean cousins.

Among Giants: A Life With Whales is the fascinating story of underwater photographer, Charles ‘Flip’ Nicklin. Full of splendid pictures and insightful commentary about the whales this book is stunning.

You can obtain Among Giants: A Life with Whales here from Amazon.

For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom, you can access: Among Giants: A Life with Whales from here.

For Canada: Among Giants: A Life with Whales.

For Germany: Among Giants: A Life with Whales.

For France: Among Giants: A Life with Whales.

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