Gray Whale Adaptations: Flippers
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  Paddles to Turn and Steer

  • As whales adapted to life in water, the shoulder remained movable while the elbow and wrist stiffened. The forelimbs became rigid paddles (flippers). Two large flippers are located about 1 meter (3 feet) behind and below the eyes. These pectoral fins help the whale steer and turn and balance.
  • The skeleton of a gray whale flipper has four long finger-like digits and looks similar to a human hand. The digits in the flippers cannot be moved individually like our fingers can, but whales use the entire flipper. For example, a whale mother can use her flippers to hold her baby close while it nurses.
  • Gray whales have no dorsal fin. This makes it easier for them to swim through and sometimes under heavy ice floes.

These breeching whales are showing one of their powerful flippers.