North America is one of the world’s best destinations for whale-watching some of the largest whale species in the world. Some of the largest whales in the world inhabit this region.
There are about 90 known species of whales worldwide. Each species varies in their size, behavior, and distribution. Whales are the largest and heaviest marine animals, with some noticeably bigger than others.
This list shows the 10 largest whales found in the United States and Canada. Whale-watching is an excellent activity in North America, and if you get the chance, you may spot one of these species.
1. Blue Whale
The Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) is the largest animal that has ever lived on Earth and the largest whale. Bigger than any dinosaur, the Blue Whale can grow to lengths of 100 feet and weigh as much as 150 tonnes.
Blue whales are found in almost every part of the world and can be found in large numbers in the North Atlantic and the North Pacific oceans.
These colossal marine mammals undertake seasonal journeys, traveling thousands of miles between their feeding and breeding grounds. During the summer and fall months, Blue Whales venture to high-latitude, nutrient-rich polar regions to gorge on krill and other small marine organisms, building up their energy reserves. As winter approaches, they make their way to warmer, lower-latitude waters for mating and calving.
2. Fin Whale
The Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) is the second largest whale in the world. They can grow as long as 70 feet and weigh up to 95 tonnes. They are a unique species because of their asymmetrical color. They have a white patch on their lower jaw on the right-hand side.
They have unique body shapes and are often called the greyhound of the sea. Fin whales have a streamlined appearance, which makes it easy to move through the water.
Statistics show there to be approximately 2,700 fin whales in the Gulf of Mexico and the North Atlantic. There are slightly more in the waters of Oregon, Washington, and California, with a population of approximately 3,200. The entire North Pacific has about 17,000 fin whales.
3. Sei Whale
Sei whales (Balaenoptera borealis) are the third-largest whale species in North America and are the fastest whale species in the world. Sei whales have a streamlined body shape with curved fins, allowing them to cut through the water quickly.
Sei comes from the Norwegian word for pollock ‘see’. Sei whales and pollock are often seen together on the Norwegian coast.
In the North Pacific, sei whales can reach 45 feet in length and weigh up to 20 tons. Unlike most mammals, females grow larger than males.
In the North Pacific, there are over 8,600 sei whales. The original population estimate for this area was 42,000, showing a loss in the population of almost 80%.
4. Humpback Whale
The Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is also known as the big-winged New Englander. The Humpback whale is the only whale with long pectoral fins. They were initially observed in English waters, but today you can find this species in all parts of the world, with large populations in Europe and America.
Humpback whales are the most common whales seen when whale-watching because of their unique behavior. Humpback whales have an unusual act of jumping out of the water, launching most or all of their bodies out of the sea. This is called breaching.
Humpback whales undertake remarkable migrations between Hawaii and Alaska, a journey that covers approximately 3,000 miles each way. During the winter months, humpbacks travel from their feeding grounds in the chilly waters of Alaska to the warm, sheltered waters around Hawaii for breeding and calving.
Here, they engage in courtship rituals and give birth to their young. As spring arrives and their young are strong enough to swim, the humpbacks make the arduous return trip to Alaska to resume feeding on the rich marine life abundant in those colder northern seas.
5. Bowhead Whale
The Bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) has high, arched jaws that look like a bow, giving them their name. Bowhead whales can reach lengths of up to 49 to 59 feet and weigh between 75 to 100 tonnes.
Bowhead whales have evolved to survive in colder waters. They have the thickest blubber layer among all sea mammals. The blubber can be up to 19 inches thick, allowing them to move around cold oceans.
Bowhead whales use their heads when breaking through ice that has formed on the sea. The Bowhead whale is capable of breaking through ice up to 23 inches thick. While they are extremely large, they can also breach their bodies out of the water, similar to Humpback whales.
6. North Atlantic Right Whale
North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) usually grow to reach a length of up to 45 to 55 feet and weigh up to 70 tons.
The North Atlantic right whale is very easy to distinguish from other whale species because they have a dorsal fin and long arching mouths. The mouth begins from directly above the eyes.
They were referred to as the Right whale by hunters. The Right whale has a slow speed and stays afloat at the top of the water, making it the right whale for them to hunt.
The North Atlantic right whale is considered Critically endangered with a population of less than 250. In previous years, they were was hunted down in large numbers and almost became extinct.
7. North Pacific Right Whale
The North Pacific Right Whale (Eubalaena japonica) is the most vulnerable and rarest North American Whale. Similar to the North Atlantic right whales, this whale was extensively hunted. There are between 200 and 250 North Pacific Right whales alive. The southeastern side of Alaska may only have less than 100 left.
The North Pacific right whale can grow to lengths of up to 60 feet, with a weight of up to 100 tons. They are baleen whales and use toothlike plates to filter food in the water.
They have been sighted south of Baja, California, and Mexico, and as far as Hawaii in the North Pacific. Although their numbers are small, they are also easy to spot in the Bering Sea in the summer. They can also be found in Bristol Bay and Kodiak Island.
8. Sperm Whale
Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) get their name from spermaceti, an organ inside this animal’s head. This organ produces a white wax-like substance that was assumed by early whalers to be used in reproduction.
Sperm whales are the largest giant-toothed whales. Male Sperm whales grow to an average length of up to 65 feet long. Females are smaller, reaching only 39 feet on average. They have long, pointed teeth, which they use to feed.
Sperm whales are famous for their unique communication, using complex patterns of clicks known as “codas” to communicate with one another. While they are found in oceans worldwide, they tend to prefer deep, offshore waters.
9. Gray Whale
Gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) can grow to lengths of up to 50 feet, with whales weighing up to 35 tonnes. Males are slightly larger than females. The skin of the Gray whale is dark gray with white patches.
Gray whales do not have dorsal fins but have a dorsal hump at the end of their back. They like cold waters and have a blubber layer up to 10 inches thick to keep them warm.
In October, many Gray whales migrate toward Mexico’s southern Gulf of California and the Baja peninsula. These are their mating grounds and where the young are born.
10. Common Minke Whale
The Common minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) is the smallest North American whale, but can still grow up to 20 to 30 feet long.
The common minke whale is subcategorized into three subspecies. The Common minke whale (Northern Hemisphere), the Antarctic minke whale (Southern Hemisphere), and the Dwarf minke. Dwarf minkes are smaller than the others but attract many tourists in North America for their unique behavior and characteristics.
Minke whales are characterized by their slender bodies and pointed snouts. They have a dark-gray to black coloration on their back and a lighter belly. Minke whales are known for their relatively fast and agile swimming, often seen leaping out of the water or creating small splashes at the surface. These
References And Further Reading
Whales, dolphins, and porpoises – Carwardine, M.
Mark Carwardine’s Guide to Whale Watching in North America – Carwardine, M.
Whales, dolphins, and seals – A field guide to the world’s marine mammals – Hadoram Shirihai,
The illustrated Encyclopedia of Whales and Dolphins – T. Martin
Walker’s mammals of the world – R.M. Nowak and E.P. Walker
The Smithsonian book of North American mammals – D.E. Wilson
Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia – Bernhard Grzimek, Schlager, N., Olendorf, D. and American
Encyclopedia of marine mammals – W.F. Perrin, B.G. Würsig, and J G M Thewissen
Whales, dolphins, and porpoises – Richard John Harrison and M.M. Bryden.
Whale nation – H. Williams
The Greenpeace book of dolphins – J. May
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.