10 Largest Whales Of North America


North America is one of the best destinations in the world to find some of the largest whale species in the world. Some of the largest whales in the world inhabit this region.  People from every corner of the globe come to see the gigantic whales in the area. 

Whales inhabit all the oceans in the world, and the largest whales are also the largest animals to ever exist on Earth.

There are about 90 known species of whales in the world. Each one of the species varies in their size, behavior, and distribution. Whales are the largest and heaviest marine animals, with some species larger than others.

I present to you here the ten largest whales that can be found in North America. Whale-watching is a fantastic activity in North America, and if you get the chance, you may spot one of these species.

Here are the top ten largest whales in North America.

1. Blue Whale

Blue whale

The blue whale is not only the largest whale to have ever lived on Earth but also the largest animal. Bigger than any dinosaur, the blue whale can grow to lengths up to 100 feet and weigh as much as 150 tonnes. 

Blue whales are found in almost every part of the world, but you can find them in large numbers in the North Atlantic, and the North Pacific oceans. 

They migrate from one side to the other during the summer and in the winter to the lower-latitude wintering. In the US, the largest populations are within the Eastern North Pacific. They are referred to as the blue whale due to their gray-blue skin. 

If you would like more information on the blue whale, I have written 101 facts about them. You can find this here.

2. Fin Whale

The fin whale is considered the second largest whale in the world. In North America, this species of whale can grow as long as 70 feet and can weigh up to 95 tonnes. They have a unique body shape, and due to this, they are often called the greyhound of the sea. 

It has a streamlined appearance, which makes it easy to move through the water. They are a unique species because of their asymmetrical color. They have a white patch on their lower jaw on the right-hand side. 

Statistics show that there are about 2,700 fin whales in the Gulf of Mexico and the North Atlantic. In the waters of Oregon, Washington, and California, there are slightly more with a population of approximately 3,200. The entire North Pacific has about 17,000 fin whales. 

3. Sei Whale

Courtesy of NOAA

This is the third-largest whale species in North America. They are also regarded as the fastest whale species in the world. Sei whales have a streamlined body shape.  They have a dark back and curved fins which allows them to cut through the water quickly. 

The name sei comes from a Norwegian word ‘seje’ which translates to the fish, pollock. This association came about because this whale species and pollock come to the Norwegian coast at about the same time. 

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. This shows that the current population is now just 20% of the original population. 

In US waters, there are no precise statistics about the population of these whales. 

4. Humpback Whale

The Humpback whale is also known as the nig-winged New Englander. The humpback whale is the only species 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. 

They are also the most-watched whale in whale-watching trips because of their unique behavior. They are not very streamlined like other whales, but they have an unusual act of breaching.  

Breaching means they jump out of the water, launching most or all of their bodies out of the sea.

Most times of the year, you will find these whales migrating from their homes in Alaska and Hawaii. Humpback whales will usually move up to 3,000 miles from Alaska to Hawaii. They cover this distance in less than two months. 

The main reason why they migrate is that they prefer shallow, warm waters. They prefer these waters to be near the shore or slightly offshore. Humpback whales also migrate in search of colder waters, which allows them to reproduce.

Want to know what the predators of humpback whales are? Find out in an article I have written.

5. Bowhead Whale

This whale species has high, arched jaws that look like a bow. These jaws are where they get their name. Bowhead whales can reach lengths of up around 49 to 59 feet. Their weight makes them very large marine mammals, weighing between 75 to 100 tonnes.

They are usually found in colder waters and have evolved to allow them to adapt to survive in these conditions. 

Bowhead whales have a very thick blubber layer which protects against the cold. Their fat is the thickest among all sea mammals. Their blubber can be up to 19 inches thick to allow them to move around cold oceans.

One unique feature of the bowhead whale is the lack of a dorsal fin. They are typically slow swimmers but will increase speeds when escaping from danger or searching for food. 

Another interesting fact is regarding their distinctly shaped heads. Bowhead whales use their heads when breaking though ice that has formed on the sea. The bowhead whale is capable of cutting through ice that is up to 23 inches thick. While they are typically a gigantic creature, this animal can breach its entire body out of the water, like the humpback whale.

6. North Atlantic Right Whale

Courtesy of NOAA

Right whales were all classified as a single species,  but were later split according to their distribution. 

The North Atlantic right whales usually grow to reach a length of up to 45 to 55 feet long. On average, a mature whale of this kind can weigh up to 70 tons. 

The North Atlantic right whale is very easy to distinguish from other species of whale because they have a dorsal fin. They also have a long arching mouth. The mouth begins from directly above the eyes.

People refer to it as the right whale because it has a slow speed and tends to stay afloat at the top of the water. This makes it easy for hunters to hunt them down. 

They usually spend their summer feeding in the cold northern latitudes of Canada and New England. 

The North Atlantic right whale is considered endangered. In previous years, this sea mammal was hunted down in large numbers, and at one time almost became extinct. 

They fall under the category of baleen whales because they lack teeth. Instead, they have baleen which are structures that work similarly to a comb. These structures filter all the food from the water that the whale picks up.

If you have ever wondered why whales migrate, then I have the article for you. Here is an article I have written. You can read it here.

7. North Pacific Right Whale

The North Pacific Right Whale is the most vulnerable and rarest the North American species of whale. Similar to the North Atlantic right whales, this species of whale was extensively hunted. 

The North Pacific right whale can grow to lengths of up to 60 feet. On average, this sea mammal species can weigh up to 100 tons. They are a baleen whale and use toothlike plates to filter through foods in the water. 

The North Pacific right whale is an endangered marine mammal. The southeastern side of Alaska may only have less than 100 of them left. 

These whales have been sighted in the south of Baja, California, and Mexico. They have also been found as far as Hawaii in the north pacific. Although in small populations, 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 whale

Sperm whales got their name from spermaceti, an organ located inside this animals head. This organ produces a white wax-like substance that was assumed by early whalers to be used in reproduction. 

Sperm whales are thought to be the largest toothed whales. They have long pointed teeth which they use to feed.

Male Sperm whales grow to an average length up to 65 feet long. Females are smaller, reaching only 39 feet on average. A unique fact about sperm whales is their ability to dive to very low depths. They can dive to depths down to 3,000 feet when looking for food. 

9. Gray Whale

Gray whales are typically large and can grow to lengths of up to 50 feet. A mature gray whale can weigh up to 35 tonnes. Males appear slightly larger than females. The skin of the gray whale is dark gray with white patches.

Gray whales do not have dorsal fins, but instead, have a dorsal hump on the end of their back. They also have fat that is up to 10 inches thick to keep it warm. 

In October, large numbers of gray whales migrate towards the southern Gulf of California and the Baja peninsula in Mexico. These are their mating grounds and where the young are born.

Want to know where to see gray whales in North America. Find out here in an article I have written.

10. Common Minke Whale

This is the smallest of all the North American whales you will come across, but they are still large. They can grow up to 20 to 30 feet long. 

The common minke whale is subcategorized into three subspecies. These are the North Atlantic minke, the North Pacific minke and the dwarf minke. The dwarf minkes are smaller than the other minke whales, but attract a lot of tourists in North America for their unique behavior and characteristics.

Whales are mammals, and breastfeed underwater. If you want to know how they do this, I have written an article, which you can read here.

References

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Carwardine, M. (2017). Mark Carwardine’s guide to whale watching in North America : USA, Canada, Mexico, where to go, what to see. London: Bloomsbury.

Hadoram Shirihai, Jarrett, B., Graeme Cresswell and Kirwan, G.M. (2019). Whales, dolphins and seals : a field guide to the marine mammals of the world. London: Bloomsbury Wildlife.

Martin, T. (1990). The illustrated encyclopedia of whales and dolphins. Hodder.

Nowak, R.M. and Walker, E.P. (1991). Walker’s mammals of the world. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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