Whales Today

Whales, dolphins and porpoises, collectively known as cetaceans, are the subject of thousands of hours of research performed annually around the globe. Some researchers use innovative methods and equipment often working in unpredictable conditions. Others pore through historical records to mine them for data. Their collaborative work has informed and enhanced whale conservation efforts by helping shape laws and treaties established to protect whales. 

Questions about current scientific study of whales are on the minds of many of our visitors. This exhibition seeks to answer some common inquiries. The story of human interactions with whales would be incomplete without discussing today's scientific work and the changes made in fishing practices to protect cetaceans.

Located on the mezzanine level of the Jacobs Family Gallery, the exhibit is in full view of our skeletons, which provide an excellent context for this exhibition. Their presence leads to a variety of questions and starting points asked by our visitors: Why do we have skeletons on display? Why/how did these animals die? What are the other major survival threats to whales? What can we do about those threats, both legislatively and personally? How are they protected? What species are hunted now? Why should we care about the future of whale populations? 

These links are provided to give you a chance to dig deeper into the research, technologies and data featured in the exhibition. 


Finding and Identifying Whales

The North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog

Read about the longest-running and most comprehensive North Atlantic right whale research and conservation initiative in the world and view pictures of right whales. This New England Aquarium search engine is connected to a live database. Sightings are updated automatically as whales are identified.

Society for Marine Mammalogy

The Society for Marine Mammalogy (SMM), Ad-Hoc Committee on Taxonomy, has produced the first official SMM list of marine mammal species and subspecies. Consensus on some issues was not possible; this is reflected in the footnotes. So, for those of you curious about exactly how many species of whale, dolphin and porpoise swim our global ocean, this is your most current source of information. Please note that you will have to scroll down the page to find the list, below the listings for the Family Carnivora.

The online "Hunt for Knowledge" Interactive 

This fun and educational interactive was created by the New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park as part of the Webrangers program. Contributions to it were made by the Museum's Department of Education.

Right Whale Listening Network

Learn about right whales and see where (and how) their calls have been detected within the past 24 hours.

The Jupiter Foundation

Will be installing new whale listening technology which may be broadcasting before next winter, so stay tuned! The Jupiter Foundation is dedicated to developing and applying new technologies for monitoring and understanding the natural world.

Schedule  for buoy deployment and live web broadcasting:

  • Hawaii: December – April 
  • Alaska : to be determined


Survival Threats and Conservation Efforts

Act Right Now - Save a Species
Whale and Dolphin Conservation commissioned a campaign video in the Fall of 2012 that speaks to the success of the 2008 Final Rule to Implement Speed Restrictions to Reduce the Threat of Ship Collisions with North Atlantic Right Whales. There is a 'sunset date' of December 9, 2013 that WDC, and staff from the NBWM, Audubon Society of Rhode Island, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and several other interested parties would like to see lifted. This would allow the rule to stay in place for more than just five years, providing greater protection for this highly endangered species. The video can be viewed by clicking on the title 'Act Right Now - Save a Species' above.

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC)
Read about Whale and Dolphin Conservation, the world's most active charity dedicated to the conservation and welfare of all whales and cetaceans.

Wildlife Conservation
Explore satellite tracking of western Arctic bowhead whales and the important project associated with these whales by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game Division of Wildlife Conservation. 

Ocean Today (NOAA)
Explore Ocean Today where you can read about ocean news around the world, ocean life, science and technology being developed and used to help us understand the most unexplored places of the Earth, and discoveries being made everyday. 


Protective Measures

The International Whaling Commission (IWC)
This link will provide information on the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling which was signed in Washington DC on 2nd December 1946.

Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972

Read Congress's findings and policies related to the MMPA


Fascinating Facts

Search and Destroy: Sperm Whale Echolocation

The Te Papa Museum in New Zealand has created a vivid, color animation that depicts how sperm whales find and capture their food in the dark depths of the ocean.

Marine Mammals Manage Decompression (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, WHOI)

How do marine mammals, whose very survival depends on regular diving, manage to avoid decompression sickness (DCS) or “the bends.”? Do they, indeed, avoid it?