Whale Science

Whale Science


Whales, dolphins and porpoises are classified as cetaceans. These are aquatic mammals with torpedo-shaped bodies, horizontal tails, multiple stomachs, a layer of blubber, elongated skulls, compressed neck vertebrae, eyes on the sides of their head, and don’t chew their food.

Whale feeding on plankton swimming on the surface filtering the water

Communication and Social Behavior

All cetacean species are able to communicate for a variety of purposes. This includes mothers and calves staying in contact, group hunting, animals finding each other over a large area, and males sending messages of aggression to other males

A humpback whale at the surface, viewed from underwater.

Conservation Efforts

There are a large number of user groups that have an interest in how the ocean and coastlines are used and protected. Each brings its own expertise, point of view, and set of goals.

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Dec. 31, 2004) National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and its rescue team partners spent last night off the South Carolina coast working to free a young endangered right whale entangled in ropes and buoys.  The team successfully removed all of the ropes and gear from the whaleÍs body.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Photo by Alicia Windham-Reid.

Current Threats

Commercial whaling officially ended in the United States in 1972. Yet, due to a variety of our activities we are still responsible for killing hundreds of animals annually.



Whales, dolphins and porpoises are all predators. But the way they catch their prey depends on what they are eating.

Migratory Routes of the Humpback Whale (from Off the Map Travel website)


Some cetacean species’ distribution is limited while others are found worldwide. Large species like blue, humpback, and fin whales are found globally, although they have their own groups and, in some cases, subspecies that have their own range.


Ocean Stewardship

A multitude of organizations use their expertise as educators and advocates to push for protection, conservation, research and better understanding of cetaceans. Several of those groups have connections to our region.

Photo Credit: Monica Zani, New England Aquarium

Research Methods

Studying large animals that live in water, that don’t spend much time at the surface, that don’t speak a human language, ... and that could kill you or sink your boat with one flick of its tail, is not easy.