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

Jumping fish avoid an open humpback whale's mouth A humpback whale feeding on menhaden close to shore in Plymouth, MA. Credit: NOAA Fisheries
Breaching humpback whale on U.S. Postal Service stamp Breaching humpback whale on U.S. Postal Service stamp. Courtesy of U.S. Postal Service.
Gray whales swimming Gray whales were nearly hunted to extinction by commercial whaling. Protections under the MMPA, ESA, and the end of commercial whaling have allowed the species to recover. Credit: NOAA Fisheries (Permit #19091).
dead calf FL, Feb 2021 North Atlantic right whale #3230 "Infinity" and her calf were struck off the coast of Florida in February 2021. Her calf pictured above died from the strike. “Infinity” was spotted several days later with injuries suggestive of a vessel strike. - Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. All photos taken under NOAA permit 18786

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

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.