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

NARW #3720 and calf North Atlantic right whale mother and calf. Credit: Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, taken under NOAA permit #20556-01.
An image of five North Atlantic right whales showing decreasing size of whales born from 1987 to 2011. A photo illustration compares the body lengths of North Atlantic right whales, including two stunted whales born in 2006 and 2011. The dotted lines show the expected length of right whales of the same age if they had been born in 1981 with no history of entanglements, or entanglements of their mothers. Scarring from an entanglement is visible near the tail in D, an 11-year-old right whale. The whales were photographed from crewed aircraft in earlier years and, later, by drone. Figure design by Madeline Wukusick. Photographs by John Durban, Holly Fearnbach, Michael Moore, Carolyn Miller, Wayne Perryman, and Morgan Lynn, under NMFS research permits #17355 and #21371.
Killer whale breaching in Puget Sound Southern Resident killer whale J16 breaches near San Juan Island in Washington while J26 swims nearby. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Research

SWFSC Stranding Collections

What we collect and how tissues are used 

Cetacean Life History

Stranding data fill in critical missing parts of the cetacean life history story

SWFSC Stranding Investigations

Investigating why marine mammals strand 

Species Distribution Models

Habitat-based density estimates for cetaceans in the California Current Ecosystem

Insight

Understanding Marine Mammal Protections

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

Pod of killer whales.

Species

32 species match your filter criteria.