Whales are among the largest and oldest animals on Earth. They can be found in every ocean and range in size from the small dwarf sperm whale to the massive blue whale, the largest animal on the planet. Whales belong to a group of marine mammals called cetaceans. Marine mammals in the cetacean family include whales, dolphins, and porpoises.

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Close up image of baleen sheets from a whale's mouth
Baleen is a filter-feeding system inside the mouths of baleen whales.

There are two types of cetaceans: baleen and toothed. Baleen whales, or Mysticetes, have baleen plates which sieve prey, like krill, from the water. Toothed whales, or Odontocetes, have teeth and feed on fish, squid, and other marine mammals such as seals and sea lions.

Together with our partners, we work to ensure the conservation of whales which are all protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and protect and recover those that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.


Species News

Park Ranger Bethany Robichaud throws a grapple in a practice session at Glacier Bay National Park. Park Ranger Bethany Robichaud throws a grapple in a practice session at Glacier Bay National Park in June 2022. Credit: Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
A view of the cliffs of Aquinnah and Gay Head Light, Martha's Vineyard A view of the cliffs of Aquinnah and Gay Head Light, Martha's Vineyard. Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Multimedia

A North Atlantic right whale with propeller scars Right whale #3853 swimming north offshore of South Carolina on Jan. 20, 2011 with a series of fresh propeller wounds running across its back. The whale was observed 5 days previously offshore of Georgia without propeller wounds. It is unknown whether the whale survived its wounds or not, as it has not been re-sighted since. Vessel collisions are a leading cause of right whale mortality. Credit: EcoHealth Alliance (NOAA permit #594-1759).
Photograph from the North Atlantic right whale Catalog #3560 of "Snow Cone," a North Atlantic right whale sighted December 2, 2021 that was entangled in gear and with a new calf. Photo credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission taken under NOAA permit 20556. North Atlantic right whale Catalog #3560 ‘Snow Cone’ sighted December 2, 2021 entangled and with a new calf. Photo credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission taken under NOAA permit 20556.
Biologist on a ship collecting data during buoyless lobster trap tests. A Northeast Fisheries Science Center biologist collecting data during buoyless lobster trap tests.
 Southern Resident killer whales encountered during NOAA's PODs (Pacific Orcinus Distribution Survey) in October 2021 Southern Resident killer whales encountered during NOAA's PODs (Pacific Orcinus Distribution Survey) in October 2021 near the west end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Research

Protected Species Gear Research

We work closely with the commercial fishing industry to reduce harmful interactions with marine mammals, turtles, and other protected species.

Developing Viable On-Demand Gear Systems

On-Demand gear development at the Center continues to evolve with the help of industry.

Borrow from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center Gear Library

The gear library is a collection of on-demand or “ropeless” systems, built with help and donations from environmental and academic organizations, that we lend to fishermen for testing.

Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species

We conduct surveys and develop abundance and distribution models to better understand how protected species such as whales, dolphins, and sea turtles use our waters.

Insight

Understanding Marine Mammal Protections

Learn how NOAA Fisheries protects all marine mammals under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Pod of killer whales.