Worldwide in all oceans


Found in all oceans and adjoining seas of the world, as well as certain lakes and river systems

Mammals of the sea

Whales come in different sizes, but they all have smooth skin, flippers, and flat tails (called flukes) that propel them through the water. They give birth and nurse their young in the water and live their entire lives there. Their specialized nose and ears have adapted to life underwater. They have excellent vision and large, intelligent brains.

Whales are divided into two groups: toothed and baleen.

Toothed Whales

There are 69 toothed whale species, including sperm whales, beluga whales, and narwhals. Bottlenose dolphins and killer whales are in this group as well. Toothed whales have one blowhole (adapted nostril) on top of the head that divides into two nostrils inside the head. They use echolocation to find food. These whales eat fish, octopus, squid, and crustaceans like shrimp.

Killer whales are part of the Cetacea order but share a taxonomic family with dolphins.
Unlike a fish’s tail, which is flat-sided, a whale’s tail is perpendicular to its body, like an airplane's tail. A whale uses its tail in an up-and-down motion to swim, whereas a fish uses a back-and-forth motion with its tail.
The blue whale is the largest mammal to have ever lived on Earth.
Gray whales make the longest migration of any whale, traveling from Alaska to the coast of Mexico. This is a round-trip journey of more than 12,000 miles (20,000 kilometers).

The San Diego Zoo does not have whales it its collection.

Humans have hunted whales, mainly for their blubber (oil), for thousands of years. Present-day whalers use the meat as well as the blubber. At first, small-scale hunting did not affect whale populations. But in the last 200 years, humans have built bigger ships and better equipment to hunt and kill larger whales in faraway oceans. Humans have hunted whales for their meat, baleen, oil, and hides.

Whale hunting, pollution, and human development along oceans and rivers have seriously impacted some whale populations. Eleven species are endangered, including the blue whale Balaenoptera musculus, sperm whale Physeter catodon, and humpback whale Magaptera novaeangliae.

The good news is that not all whales are endangered. Of those that are endangered, some populations are at higher risk of extinction than others. One great success story is the gray whale, which was hunted to the brink of extinction twice and now has completely recovered due to protection and conservation efforts.