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

Dead right whale calf (#3560) found floating off New Jersey on June 25, 2020, following vessel collisions Dead right whale calf (#3560) found floating off New Jersey on June 25, 2020, following vessel collisions. Credit: Center for Coastal Studies and Marine Mammal Stranding Center (MMPA Permit #18786-04).
A western gray whale feeding in the Okhotsk Sea off northeastern Sakhalin Island, Russia A western gray whale feeding in the Okhotsk Sea off northeastern Sakhalin Island, Russia in the proximity of offshore oil and gas platforms. Credit: NOAA Fisheries
Flame, SEAK #1538, taken near Juneau, Alaska in 2007. NOAA Permit 14245) Flame, SEAK #1538, taken near Juneau, Alaska in 2007. NOAA Permit 14245)

Multimedia

Ericbuoyless.jpg 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.