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.

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

Humpback whale tail peaking out of the ocean with a green telemetry tracking buoy. (January 16, 2022) The entangled humpback whale fluking before a dive with the green telemetry buoy attached to the trailing gear. Responders attached the tracking buoy to allow them to relocate the whale over multiple days. Credit: Captain Tara Leota (NOAA Fisheries Permit #18786-06).
Killer whale eatig salmon Southern Resident killer whale preys on salmon in the Salish Sea near Seattle. Credit: Su Kim/NOAA Fisheries
Adult monk seal and newborn pup on a public beach. Hawaiian monk seal RK96 and her pup rest in Waikīkī. Credit: Hawaii Marine Animal Response.


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.

Marine Mammal Research Surveys in NOAA’s Southeast Region

How survey data is collected and used to inform marine mammal population assessments in the Southeast.

SWFSC Stranding Collections

What we collect and how tissues are used 

Marine Mammal Life History

Data collected from stranded and bycaught marine mammals are critical to understanding their life history


Understanding Marine Mammal Protections

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

Pod of killer whales.


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