Whales are the largest and oldest mammals on Earth. They are found in every ocean of the world—and their songs—can travel further than any other mammal.
Whales are becoming entangled in fishing gear and marine debris at an increasing rate and scientists are unsure why. Studies of whale body scars show that 83 percent of all right whales and 70 percent of whales overall in the U.S. have been entangled in fishing gear or other marine debris at some point in their lives. Fortunately, the efforts of whale entanglement response teams are paying off. There are endangered whales alive and reproducing today because of successful disentanglement efforts from NOAA and our partners.
29 species of whales live in U.S. waters. All of these species are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Endangered and threatened marine mammals are also protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
10 Wonderful Whale Facts
1. Male humpback whales found in U.S. waters sing complex songs in winter breeding areas in waters near Hawaii, in the Caribbean, and elsewhere that can last up to 20 minutes and be heard miles away.
2. The blue whale is the largest animal that ever lived and can grow to 90 or more feet and weigh as much as 24 elephants! That’s more than 330,000 pounds (150,000 kg).
3. Some species of whales are among the longest lived mammals. Scientists estimate bowhead whales (a baleen whale found in the Arctic) can live for more than 200 years, and killer whales (a toothed whale found in various habitats worldwide) can live for more
4. Killer whales are highly social and often travel in groups that are matrifocal—a family unit focused or centered on the mother.
5. Beluga whales have flexible necks, allowing them to move their heads. Their complex communication repertoire of whistles, clicks, and chirps has prompted the nickname “canaries of the sea.”
6. Gray whales make one of the longest annual migrations of any mammal: they travel about 10,000 miles (16,000 km) round trip!
7. The minke whale is the smallest baleen whale in North American waters.
8. North Atlantic right whales gather small organisms near the water surface, straining seawater with their long baleen plates. The whales’ surface feeding behavior and buoyancy make them vulnerable to collisions with ships.
9. Sperm whales were almost driven to extinction by commercial whalers who sought the whales’ blubber and the unique oil derived from the “spermaceti organ” found in their massive heads. The spermaceti organ is a key part of their echolocation system.
10. In 2014, a Cuvier’s beaked whale made the deepest and longest dive ever recorded for a cetacean when it reached a depth of 1.9 miles (2,992 m) and stayed submerged for more than 2 hours.