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

Photo showing tail fluke of humpback whale named "Frosty." Photographs of humpback whale tails, identified through artificial intelligence-based image recognition much like facial recognition, allow researchers to track individual whales across oceans, revealing population growth recovering from industrial whaling — and more recently, decline from a major marine heatwave. This whale is known as “Frosty” CRC-12492, named for the snowman-shaped barnacle scars on the tail. Photo: Ted Cheeseman.
A gray whale lies on a beach parallel to the shore. There are tire tracks near its head. It has barnacles on its skin and its baleen is visible. Stranded gray whale on a beach in La Jolla. Photo Credit: Lonnie Stephens, San Diego Fire-Rescue
Humpback whale breaching out of the water in Maui, Hawai'i Humpback whale breaching off of Maui, Hawai’i. Credit: Ed Lyman taken under NOAA Fisheries Permit #14097

Multimedia

Horton NARW with her calf North Atlantic right whale Horton and newborn calf. Credit: Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, taken under NOAA permit #26919.

Research

2024 Northeast Experimental On-Demand Gear System Testing Underway

Watch for specially flagged vessels off Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Killer Whale and Beaked Whale Posters

Art-Science Collaboration Celebrates the Diversity of Killer Whales and Beaked Whales from Around the World

Peer-Reviewed Research

Geographic Distribution of the Cross Seamount Beaked Whale Based on Acoustic Detections

The foraging behavior of Cross Seamount beaked whales appears to be unique among all beaked whales.

Peer-Reviewed Research

Identifying Social Clusters of Endangered Main Hawaiian Islands False Killer Whales

In this study, we used photo-identification data over a 23 year period to reassess the number and…

Understanding Marine Mammal Protections

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

Pod of killer whales.