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

large whale entanglement Responders from the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Massachusetts, attempt to disentangle a North Atlantic right whale. Entanglements such as this one that involve the whale’s mouth and damage the whale’s baleen are particularly problematic, as they may prevent the animal from effectively feeding and the whale may ultimately starve, even if all of the entangling gear can be successfully removed by the response team. Credit: CCS; Permit No. 18986-04.
aerial shot of beluga whale swimming in icy waters in the Arctic A beluga whale swimming in icy waters of the Chukchi Sea. Photo taken during a previous beluga whale survey. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Laura Morse
Rental boat approaching endangered Southern Resident killer whales off San Juan Island A witness on San Juan Island took this photo of a rental boat approaching endangered Southern Resident killer whales off the west side of the island. NOAA investigators also interviewed the kayak guide who said the boat was under power at the time.
Members of the Alaska Beluga Monitoring Program use binoculars to look for beluga whales in Alaska's Cook Inlet. Credit: NOAA Fisheries Members of the Alaska Beluga Monitoring Program use binoculars to look for beluga whales in Alaska's Cook Inlet. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Multimedia

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.

Research

5 Facts About How Belugas Use Sound

Beluga whales are very social marine mammals of our arctic seas, and we’ve only recently begun to understand how they communicate with each other. It turns out that they have quite a bit to say! 1. Beluga Whales Have Three Types Of Sounds Belugas…

5 Facts Learned From Beluga Whale Research

1) Belugas Can Travel Thousands of Miles from Their Arctic Habitats Beluga whales can travel thousands of miles from the icy waters where we expect to see them. While we expect to find them in arctic and subarctic waters, they’ve been found as far…

5 Icebreakers About Bowhead Whales

1) Bowhead Whales Are Highly Adapted to the Arctic They have thick blubber to insulate their bodies from the cold temperatures. They have no difficulties with thermoregulation and their skulls are so tough that they break through 2 feet of solid ice…

Trophic Interactions and Habitat Requirements of Gulf of Mexico Rice’s Whales

Developing a comprehensive ecological understanding of the endangered Rice’s whale, formerly known as Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale.

Insight

Understanding Marine Mammal Protections

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

Pod of killer whales.