Classification and identification of cetaceans

The Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) estimates that there are close to one million different species of eukaryotic beings in the ocean. The cetaceans, descendants of terrestrial mammals that knew how to adapt to aquatic life, are a clear example of diversity and survival. In this article we inform you about the classification and identification of cetaceans.

What exactly are cetaceans?

The classification and identification of cetaceans is not an easy task: the order of the cetaceans includes nothing more and nothing less than 80 species of different animals. When we refer to cetaceans, we refer to order, that is, the taxonomic category between class and family. Taxonomy helps us to classify and order nature in different species and subspecies according to their genetic characteristics.

The word 'cetacean' can be translated into Latin cetus (large marine animal ) and the Greek ketus (sea monster). The oldest species, which are part of the sub-order Archeoceti , lived about 30 million years ago in swamps and shallow marine waters.

Cetaceans are warm-blooded mammals and pulmonary respiration . They are also viviparous, so they give birth to their live offspring, which they breastfeed until they reach a certain age and can feed themselves with solid food.

The body of cetaceans it has adapted to its aquatic environment : it is fusiform, that is, it has a spindle shape, which allows it to move with agility through water, and its forelimbs have been transformed into fins.

Also have a dorsal or caudal fin, usually located at the bottom, which stabilizes the body of the animal. Depending on the species that we are, you can see certain anatomical changes.

Classification and identification of cetaceans

The order of cetaceans is one of the most diverse on the planet. It includes two living suborders and one extinct, that of archaeocetes. Living species can be classified as follows:

  • Suborder Mysticeti . Includes the laminated barbel whales , that is, with structures located in the upper jaw of the animal that allow the filtration of water plankton. In this suborder we find the families Balaenidae , Balaenopteridae , Eschrichtiidae and Neobalaenidae.
  • Suborder Odontoceti . Includes cetaceans with teeth , such as dolphins and killer whales. The families of this suborder are those of Delphinidae , Iniidae , Platanistidae , Photocoenidae, Physeteridae, Kogiidae, Ziphiidae and Monodontidae .

These suborders comprise animals known to all : if Mysticeti includes practically the majority of known whales, Odontoceti include dolphins, killer whales, sperm whales and belugas, among others.Despite having enjoyed the status of protected species for decades, the situation does not seem to improve.