Whale & Dolphin Characteristics

Introducing the Cetacea (Latin: Cetus = whale and Greek: ketos = huge fish)

The whales, dolphins and porpoises belong to a large group of marine mammals called infraorder Cetacea. The Cetacea share several characteristics. Those shared characteristics include:

  1. Streamlined bodies
  2. Completely aquatic lives
  3. Flippers – paddle-like front limbs
  4. Fish-like appearance but NOT fish
  5. Mammalian characteristics – warm-blooded, breathe with lungs, feed young with milk, & maintain constant body temperature

Activity – Zoom in and view some of the┬ácetaceans of the world! Please note, more numbers have been added to the cetaceans list to include 89 named species.





Whales, dolphins, and porpoises appear to be similar yet they have differing characteristics. These different characteristics divide them into two main groupings which you can see in the diagram above. This class will only be addressing the existing cetacean and not the extinct species.


Activity – use the diagram above to assist you.

  1. In the comments section below, list two types of Mysteceti or baleen whales.
  2. In the comments section below, list two types of toothed whales.


Activity – Listen to several cetaceans from around the world by clicking on the sound files per image below.

Click on the sound files in the image below to view and listen to each whale, dolphin or porpoise.