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Cladus: Eukaryota
Supergroup: Opisthokonta
Regnum: Animalia
Subregnum: Eumetazoa
Cladus: Bilateria
Cladus: Nephrozoa
Cladus: Deuterostomia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
Superclassis: Tetrapoda
Classis: Mammalia
Subclassis: Theria
Infraclassis: Placentalia
Superordo: Cetartiodactyla
Ordo: Cetacea
Subordines: †Archaeoceti - Mysticeti - Odontoceti


Cetacea Brisson, 1762


* Cetacea on Mammal species of the World.
* Don E. Wilson & DeeAnn M. Reeder (editors). 2005. Mammal Species of the World : A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference, 2-volume set(3rd ed).

ernacular names
العربية: حيتانيات
Български: Китоподобни
Česky: Kytovci
Cymraeg: Morfil
Dansk: Hvaler
Deutsch: Wale
English: Cetaceans
Español: Cetáceos
Français: Cétacé
עברית: לווייתנאים
Hrvatski: Kitovi
Magyar: Cetek
Italiano: Cetacei
日本語: クジラ目
한국어: 고래
Limburgs: Walvèsachtege
Bahasa Melayu: Ikan paus
Nederlands: Walvisachtigen
‪Norsk (nynorsk)‬: Kvalar
‪Norsk (bokmål)‬: Hvaler
Polski: Walenie
Português: Cetáceo
Русский: Китообразные
Српски / Srpski: Плави кит
Suomi: Valaat
Svenska: Valar
ไทย: อันดับวาฬและโลมา
Türkçe: Balinalar
Українська: Китоподібні
中文: 鯨目


The order Cetacea (pronounced /sɨˈteɪʃ(i)ə/, L. cetus, whale, from Greek) includes the marine mammals commonly known as whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Cetus is Latin and is used in biological names to mean "whale"; its original meaning, "large sea animal", was more general. It comes from Ancient Greek κῆτος (kētos), meaning "whale" or "any huge fish or sea monster". In Greek mythology the monster Perseus defeated was called Ceto, which is depicted by the constellation of Cetus. Cetology is the branch of marine science associated with the study of cetaceans.

Cetaceans are the mammals best adapted to aquatic life. Their body is fusiform (spindle-shaped). The forelimbs are modified into flippers. The tiny hindlimbs are vestigial; they do not attach to the backbone and are hidden within the body. The tail has horizontal flukes. Cetaceans are nearly hairless, and are insulated from the cooler water they inhabit by a thick layer of blubber. Some species are noted for their high intelligence.

Cetaceans breathe air. They surface periodically to exhale carbon dioxide and inhale a fresh supply of oxygen. During diving, a muscular action closes the blowholes (nostrils), which remain closed until the cetacean next breaks the surface; when it surfaces, the muscles open the blowholes and warm air is exhaled.

Cetaceans' blowholes have evolved to a position at the top of the head, simplifying breathing in sometimes rough seas. When the stale air, warmed from the lungs, is exhaled, it condenses as it meets colder external air. As with a terrestrial mammal breathing out on a cold day, a small cloud of 'steam' appears. This is called the 'blow' or 'spout' and varies by species in terms of shape, angle and height. Species can be identified at a distance using this characteristic.

Cetaceans can remain under water for much longer periods than other mammals, (approximately 7-30 minutes, varying by species) due to large physiological differences. Two studied advantages of cetacean physiology let this Order (and other marine mammals) forage underwater for extended periods without breathing:

* Mammalian myoglobin concentrations in skeletal muscle have much variation. New Zealand white rabbits have 0.08 grams (0.0028 oz) 0.08 g (0.0028 oz) +/-0.06 (0.0021 oz) in a 100 grams (3.5 oz) wet muscle of myoglobin,[2] whereas a Northern Bottlenose Whale has 6.34 grams (0.224 oz).[3] Myoglobin, by nature, has a higher oxygen affinity than hemoglobin. The higher the myoglobin concentration in skeletal muscle, the longer the animal can stay underwater.

* Increased body size also increases maximum dive duration. Greater body size implies increased muscle mass and in oxygen stores. Cetaceans also obey Kleiber's law, which states that mass and metabolic rate are inversely related. I.e., larger animals consume less oxygen than smaller animals per unit mass.

Vision, hearing and echolocation

Cetacean eyes are set on the side rather than the front of the head. This means that only cetaceans with pointed 'beaks' (such as dolphins) have good binocular vision forward and downward. Tear glands secrete greasy tears, which protect the eyes from the salt in the water. The lens is almost spherical, which is most efficient at focusing the minimal light that reaches deep water. Cetaceans make up for their generally poor vision (with the exception of the dolphin) with excellent hearing.

As with the eyes, cetacean ears are also small. Life in the sea accounts for the cetacean's loss of its external ears, whose function is to collect and focus airborne sound waves. However, water conducts sound better than air, so the external ear is unneeded: it is a tiny hole in the skin, just behind the eye. The highly developed inner ear can detect sounds from dozens of miles away and discern from which direction the sound comes.

Odontoceti are generally capable of echolocation.[4] From this, Odontoceti can discern the size, shape, surface characteristics and movement of the object, as well as how far away it is. With this ability cetaceans can search for, chase and catch fast-swimming prey in total darkness. Echolocation is so advanced in most Odontoceti that they can distinguish between prey and non-prey (such as humans or boats); captive Odontoceti can be trained to distinguish between, for example, balls of different sizes or shapes. Mysticeti have little need of echolocation, because they prey upon tiny fish such as krill that are impractical to locate with echolocation.

Cetaceans also use sound to communicate, whether it be groans, moans, whistles, clicks or the complex 'singing' of the Humpback Whale.


The toothed whales such as the Sperm Whale, Beluga, dolphins and porpoises, have teeth that they use for catching fish, squid or other marine life. They do not chew but swallow prey whole. When they catch large prey, such as when the Orca (Orcinus orca) catches a seal, they bite off and swallow one chunk at a time.

Mysticeti instead have baleen plates made of keratin (the same substance as human fingernails) which hang from the upper jaw. These plates filter small animals (such as krill and fish) from the seawater. Cetaceans included in this group include the Blue, Humpback, Bowhead and Minke whales.

Not all Mysticeti feed on plankton: the larger species eat small shoaling fish, such as herring and sardine, called micronecton. The Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus), is a benthic feeder, primarily eating sea floor crustaceans.

Mammalian nature

Cetaceans are mammals, that is, members of the class Mammalia. The closest living relatives of cetaceans are the even-toed ungulates, such as the hippopotamus and deer.[5][6]

Mammalian characteristics include warm-bloodedness, breathing air through their lungs, and suckling their young, and growing hair, although very little of it.

Another way of distinguishing a cetacean from a fish is by the shape of the tail. Fish tails are vertical and move from side to side when the fish swims. Cetacea tails—called a fluke—are horizontal and move up and down, because cetacea spines bend in the same manner as a human spine.


The order Cetacea contains about ninety species, all marine except for four species of freshwater dolphins. The order contains two suborders, Mysticeti (baleen whales) and Odontoceti (toothed whales, which includes dolphins and porpoises). The species range in size from Commerson's Dolphin, smaller than a human, to the Blue Whale, the largest mammal known to have lived.

Mysticeti vs Odontoceti

Fossils indicate that before evolving baleen, Mysticeti also had teeth, so defining the Odontoceti via teeth alone is problematic, and paleontologists have instead identified other features uniting fossil and modern odontocetes that are not shared by Mysticetes.

The classification here closely follows Dale W. Rice, Marine Mammals of the World: Systematics and Distribution (1998), which has become the standard taxonomy reference in the field. There is very close agreement between this classification and that of Mammal Species of the World: 3rd Edition (Wilson and Reeder eds., 2005). Any differences are noted using the abbreviations "Rice"[8] and "MSW3"[1] respectively. Further differences due to recent discoveries are also noted.

Discussion of synonyms and subspecies are relegated to the relevant genus and species articles.


1. ^ a b Mead, James G. and Robert L. Brownell, Jr. (16 November 2005). "Order Cetacea (pp. 723-743)". in Wilson, Don E., and Reeder, DeeAnn M., eds. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2 vols. (2142 pp.). ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0.
2. ^ Castellini and Somero, 1981[broken citation]
3. ^ Scholander, 1940[broken citation]
4. ^ Hooker, Sascha K.. Perrin, William F.; Wursig, Bernd; Thewissen, J. G. M.. eds. Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals (2 ed.). 30 Corporate Drive, Burlington Ma. 01803: Academic Press. p. 1176. ISBN 978-0-12-3733553-9.
5. ^ University Of Michigan (2001, September 20). "New Fossils Suggest Whales And Hippos Are Close Kin". ScienceDaily. Retrieved 2007-12-21.
6. ^ Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy (2007, December 21). "Whales Descended From Tiny Deer-like Ancestors". ScienceDaily. Retrieved 2007-12-21.
7. ^ Hooker, Sascha K.. Perrin, William F.; Wursig, Bernd; Thewissen, J. G. M.. eds. Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals (2 ed.). 30 Corporate Drive, Burlington Ma. 01803: Academic Press. p. 1174. ISBN 978-0-12-3733553-9.
8. ^ Rice, Dale W. (1998). "Marine mammals of the world: systematics and distribution". Society of Marine Mammalogy Special Publication Number 4: 231pp.

External links

* "ACS - American Cetacean Society". American Cetacean Society. Retrieved March 2010.
* "Cetacean Research & Rescue Unit". UK: Cetacean Research & Rescue Unit. Retrieved March 2010. Including a page on taxonomy
* "Dolphin and Whale News". Science Daily. Retrieved March 2010.
* Futuyma, Douglas J. (1998). "Cetacea Evolution". Retrieved 2010.
* "Whale Trackers". Retrieved March 2010. A documentary series about whales, dolphins and porpoises

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