The original award-winning NEFSC FishFAQ, created in 1993, has been archived.
For current information, please see our new FAQ.

How many species of cetaceans in U.S. waters are protected under the Endangered Species Act?

whale surfacing There are currently seven species of cetaceans in U.S. waters that are protected under the Endangered Species Act. They are the blue whale, the bowhead whale, the fin whale, the Humpback whale, the Northern Right Whale, the sei whale and the sperm whale. All seven species are listed as endangered.

What is a cetacean?

Whales, dolphins, and porpoises are fascinating to many people. It may be because of their size or because of their activities that can seem so playful or because of the attention that has been focused on human threats to these animals. The whales, dolphins, and porpoises are in an order known as cetaceans.
These creatures of the sea are mammals just like humans. They breath air. They are warmblooded. They bear live young called calves which are nursed by their mothers.

How big is a Blue Whale?

beached blue whale

The blue whale may be the largest animal ever to inhabit the earth. It may have reached lengths of up to 31 meters (100 feet)--roughly the length of a basketball court. Blue whales have weighed up to 146 metric tonnes (160 tons). They feed on small shrimp-like crustaceans. The whales consume up to eight tons of these animals a day during their feeding period. The loudest sound ever recorded from an animal was produced by a blue whale, and some scientists have speculated that they may be able to remain in touch with each other over hundreds of miles. The number of blue whales in the southern hemisphere was severely depleted by whaling. Due to commercial whaling the size of the population is less than ten percent of what it was originally.

What does a Bowhead Whale eat?

As with other species, the bowhead whale was severely depletedby commercial whaling. It may be as long as 18-20 meters (60-65 feet) and weigh as much as 109 metric tonnes (120 tons). The diet of bowhead whales is similar to that of right whales. They eat small crustaceans termed copepods and euphausiids (krill). Alaskan Eskimos still harvest about 50 bowheads each year for subsistence use.

What is the 2nd largest whale?

fin whale jawbone
NEFSC's Webmaster (6'2")
finds a fin whale's jaw bone
The fin whale is the second largest whale reaching lengths of up to 27 meters (88 feet) and weights up to 69 metric tonnes (76 tons). Depending on where they live, fin whales eat both fish and small crustaceans. In the Antarctic, their prey is almost exclusively krill. In northern areas they often eat small schooling fish such as herring or anchovies. Like the other great whale species, the population of fin whales was severely depleted by whaling.

Which whale would I most likely see when I go whale watching?

humpback whales The humpback whale is often seen by whale watching boats. The humpback reaches a maximum length of about 15.6 meters (51 feet) and a maximum weight of about 34 metric tonnes (37.5 tons). In the southern hemisphere its primary food is krill. In the northern hemisphere it eats schooling fish such as anchovies, cod, sand lance, and capelin. The humpback is one of the most popular whales for whalewatching on both the east and west coasts. It is the whale most often photographed leaping out of the water--an activity called breaching and surfacing quickly to trap food which is known as lunging (pictured above) . The humpback is also called the "singing whale". A male's song may be as long as half an hour and changes from year to year. Scientists estimate that there are 10,000 humpbacks worldwide--only about eight percent of its estimated initial population.

What makes the right whale right?

The right whale got its name because it was the "right" whale to hunt--it was slow moving and floated after being killed. It is the most endangered species of whale off of the U.S. coasts. It was the first whale hunted by American whalers, and it was so depleted that it has not recovered despite being protected for over 50 years. The maximum length of right whales is about 18.6 meters (60 feet), and the maximum weight is slightly more than 91 metric tonnes (100 tons). They feed on large schools of crustaceans, specifically copepods and krill, and may feed on small fish near the ocean floor. One of the major causes of death for right whales seems to be collisions with ships. Visit our Northern Right Whale Early Warning System page for more information about right whales, including what NMFS is doing to protect them

Do any whales have teeth?

Unlike the other great whales on the endangered species list, the sperm whale is a toothed whale. It is the largest of the toothed whales, reaching a length of 18.5 meters (60 feet) in males and 12.5 meters (40 feet) in females. Sperm whales are noted for their dives, which can last up to an hour and a half and go as deep as 3.3 kilomters (2 miles) under the surface. It is the most abundant of all the endangered whales, with an estimated population of two million. Sperm whales feed mainly on squid, including the giant squid.

What do whales eat?

As is indicated in the discussions of individual species, various species of whales feed at different levels on the food chain. Some species feed on the swarms of zooplankton (copepods and euphausiids, or "krill"). Others feed on schooling fish. The sperm whale feeds on squid. The type of prey may determine how a specific species feeds. Some may be called lungers--they take huge gulps of water containing their prey. Others are skimmers--they swim along with their mouths open before straining out their prey. One of the more interesting feeding methods has been observed in humpback whales. They sometimes construct bubble nets around a school of fish and then lunge up through the bubble net to get their food.

previous button return to faq buttonnext button

Link disclaimer | Email webmaster | Privacy policy |     File Modified Aug 25, 2017