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11 Most Endangered Whales

gray whale endangered

Being the absolute biggest animal on our planet, easily beating the other contenders in our list of the top 10 biggest animals in the world, whales demand our respect. It isn’t easy to comprehend just how breathtakingly giant these creatures are. But whales are not only the biggest animal; they are tragically also one of the most endangered animals.

Whales are one of the most important members of marine life. Also, they exist in plenty of species and each species has some specification or exclusive feature. 

whale endangered animals

Over the past century, many species of whales have gone through extreme population loss. Some species only have a few individuals left. There are multiple factors that are contributing to their population decline. 

This article explores the 11 most endangered whales and thoroughly discusses the key factors of their endangerment. 

Key points

Whale SpeciesScientific NamePopulation EstimateMain Threats
North Atlantic Right WhaleEubalaena Glacialis<500 individualsEntanglement in fishing gear, ship collisions
North Pacific Right WhaleEubalaena japonica<1000 individualsShip collisions, climate change, noise and pollution
Sei WhaleBalaenoptera borealisLess than 1/3 of 1950s populationHabitat loss, ship strikes
Blue WhaleBalaenoptera musculus1000-2000 individualsHabitat loss, ship strikes
Western Gray WhaleEschrichtius robustus103 individualsEntanglement in fishing gear, ship collisions, oil and gas development
Sperm WhalePhyseter macrocephalusDeclining populationHistorical whaling, habitat degradation
Fin WhaleBalaenoptera physalusEndangeredHistorical whaling, ship strikes, entanglement in fishing gear, noise and pollution
Bowhead WhaleBalaena mysticetusCritically endangeredHistorical whaling, climate change, ship strikes, pollution
Humpback WhaleMegaptera novaeangliaeDeclining populationCommercial whaling, entanglement in fishing gear, vessel strikes, vessel-based harassment
Beluga WhaleDelphinapterus leucasDeclining populationShip collisions, pollution
Narwhal WhaleMonodon monocerosDeclining populationIvory tusk hunting, ship collisions, climate change

#1 North Atlantic Right Whale

North Atlantic right whale endangered
StatisticValue
Scientific NameEubalaena glacialis
FamilyBalaenidae
Average Length13 – 18 meters (43 – 59 feet)
Average Weight40 – 70 tons (36,000 – 63,500 kg)
LifespanUp to 70 years
Population StatusEndangered
Population SizeApproximately 360 individuals (as of 2021)
HabitatNorth Atlantic Ocean
RangeFrom southern U.S. to eastern Canada
DietFilter feeder (krill, copepods, zooplankton)
Conservation StatusEndangered
ThreatsEntanglement in fishing gear, vessel strikes, habitat degradation, climate change

One of the most critically endangered whale species is the North Atlantic Right Whale. They are scientifically known as Eubalaena Glacialis and have suffered the greatest population declines. This particular type of whale was considered ideal for commercial whaling back in the 18th and 19th centuries. 

Being the most targeted whale by the whalers, the species was named right whales – the right whales to hunt. The reason why hunters named them the right whales was due to them being super convenient to hunt. This is so because of their swimming habits. 

They like to swim near the sea shores and start floating on the surface of the water once killed, which makes capturing them easy. 

According to a rough estimation the North Atlantic Right Whale’s population currently consist of less than 500 individuals, a number which is reducing further day by day. Following this scenario, the IUCN has enlisted North Atlantic Right Whale as a critically endangered whale.  

Naturally it is strictly banned to hunt these critically endangered whales. However, their existence is still threatened by humans due to entanglement in fishing gear and ship collisions. 

#2 North Pacific Right Whale

StatisticValue
Scientific NameEubalaena japonica
FamilyBalaenidae
Average Length14 – 18 meters (46 – 59 feet)
Average Weight50 – 80 tons (45,000 – 72,500 kg)
LifespanUp to 100 years
Population StatusEndangered
Population SizeApproximately 30 – 100 individuals (as of 2021)
HabitatNorth Pacific Ocean
RangePrimarily in the eastern and western North Pacific
DietFilter feeder (krill, copepods, zooplankton)
Conservation StatusEndangered
ThreatsHistorical whaling, entanglement in fishing gear, vessel strikes, habitat degradation, climate change

Similar to the North Atlantic right whale, the North Pacific right whale was also excessively targeted by whale hunters. According to one survey report, whale hunters killed around 26,500 to 37,000 North Pacific right whales in the late 19th century. Besides, their exact population before poaching was pursued is unknown to the world. 

As per the constant decline in their population, they have been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act since 1970. By now, their global population consists of less than 1000 individuals. Moreover, the species has almost become extinct in the Northeastern Pacific Ocean around Alaska. Thankfully, the Marine Mammal Protection Act also provides them with protection.

Please note that commercial whaling is no longer a threat to the North Pacific right whale as this activity is already banned by the respective authorities. 

However, humans still pose threats in many different ways. For example, ship collisions is the one main reason for the drastic downfall of their population. 

Another reason for their depletion is climate change, which is causing their habitats to disintegrate. Additionally, noise and pollution are also prone to threaten the survival of this species globally. 

Therefore, the IUCN has enlisted North Pacific right whales as a critically endangered whale species.

#3 Sei Whale

sei whale endangered
StatisticValue
Scientific NameBalaenoptera borealis
FamilyBalaenopteridae
Average Length14 – 18 meters (46 – 59 feet)
Average Weight20 – 30 tons (18,000 – 27,000 kg)
LifespanUp to 70 years
Population StatusEndangered
Population SizeApproximately 8,000 – 12,000 individuals (as of 2021)
HabitatOceans worldwide, primarily in temperate and subpolar regions
RangeFound in all major oceans
DietKrill, copepods, small fish
Conservation StatusEndangered
ThreatsHistorical whaling, habitat degradation, climate change, entanglement in fishing gear, underwater noise pollution

The sei whale, scientifically known as Balaenoptera Borealis, is one of the fastest whales that can easily inhabit every ocean on earth. 

Sei whales are comparatively thinner and less blubbery than other baleen whales, which is why they were only hunted from the early 20th century and onwards.

However, the over-exploitation of other baleen whales resulted in a shortage of whales to hunt. Subsequently, hunters started targeting sei whales for commercial whaling. 

The commercial whaling of sei whales became more common during the 1950s to the 1980s. There was constant hunting for three decades, which naturally lead to a severe decline in their population.  

Experts believe that the current population of sei whales is less than one-third of the population in the 1950s. Due to this, the IUCN has deemed sei whales endangered. Although, their hunting is banned, still, there are many threats to their survival. 

#4 Blue Whale

blue whale endangered
StatisticValue
Scientific NameBalaenoptera musculus
FamilyBalaenopteridae
Average Length24 – 30 meters (79 – 98 feet)
Average Weight100 – 150 tons (90,000 – 136,000 kg)
LifespanUp to 90 years
Population StatusEndangered
Population SizeApproximately 10,000 – 25,000 individuals (as of 2021)
HabitatOceans worldwide
RangeFound in all major oceans
DietKrill, small fish
Conservation StatusEndangered
ThreatsHistorical whaling, ship strikes, entanglement in fishing gear, habitat degradation, climate change

The blue whale is a type of baleen whale – the largest animal existing on the planet Earth. Sadly, the world will soon lose this wondrous marine mammal as it is one of the most endangered whales. 

Being the largest animal on the planet, a blue whale’s weight can exceed 200 tons which is approximately equal to the weight of around 33 elephants.

Experts have asserted that the size of a blue whale’s heart is equivalent to the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Moreover, its usually consumes as much as four tons of krill everyday as its stomach is able to hold several tons of krill.

In addition, they are the most vocal and loudest animals – their sound being even louder than a jet engine. But, there are only 1000 to 2000 species of blue whales left in the world. Plus, research predicts their population to decrease further in the coming years due to habitat loss and ship strikes.

Fortunately, there are still some areas where you can witness these disappearing creatures; you can explore further by reading our article on the top places to see blue whales.

#5 Western Gray Whale 

gray whale endangered
StatisticValue
Scientific NameEschrichtius robustus
FamilyEschrichtiidae
Average Length12 – 16 meters (39 – 52 feet)
Average Weight15 – 35 tons (13,600 – 31,800 kg)
LifespanUp to 70 years
Population StatusLeast Concern
Population SizeApproximately 20,000 – 27,000 individuals (as of 2021)
HabitatEastern and western North Pacific, nearshore and coastal waters
RangeNorth Pacific Ocean
DietBenthic invertebrates (such as amphipods and small crustaceans)
Conservation StatusLeast Concern
ThreatsHistorical whaling (population recovery), habitat degradation, entanglement in fishing gear

Western gray whales, scientifically known as Eschrichtius robustus, has many other names: the gray back whale, Pacific gray whale, Korean gray whale, or California gray whale. It is another unique type of baleen whale marked as a critically endangered whale. 

The average lifespan of gray whales ranges from 75 years to 80 years. Also, it is often called the gray whale due to having various gray patches on its body. 

Sadly, this beautiful species of whales is on the verge of becoming extinct as only 103 gray whales are left on the planet. The major reasons for their population decrease are entanglement in fishing gear, ship collisions, and oil and gas development. 

Fortunately, there are still some areas where you can witness these disappearing creatures; you can explore further by reading our article on the top places to see gray whales.

#6 Sperm Whale

StatisticValue
Scientific NamePhyseter macrocephalus
FamilyPhyseteridae
Average LengthMales: 16 – 20 meters (52 – 66 feet) <br> Females: 11 – 13 meters (36 – 43 feet)
Average WeightMales: 45 – 60 tons (40,800 – 54,400 kg) <br> Females: 14 – 18 tons (12,700 – 16,300 kg)
LifespanUp to 70 years
Population StatusVulnerable
Population SizeApproximately 200,000 – 250,000 individuals (as of 2021)
HabitatOceans worldwide
RangeFound in all major oceans, primarily deep waters
DietMainly squid, also fish and other cephalopods
Conservation StatusVulnerable
ThreatsHistorical whaling, habitat degradation, entanglement in fishing gear, underwater noise pollution

Sperm whales are also known as cachalot. They are the largest type of toothed whales which makes them incredibly great predators. Sperm whales belong to the genus Physeter. 

The average lifespan of spam whales can reach up to 70 years. However, they have been the prime target of the whaling industry which is why their population is suffering from a continuous decrease. Viewing that, the relevant authorities have added them to the red list of the most endangered whales.

Fortunately, there are still some areas where you can witness these disappearing creatures; you can explore further by reading our article on the top places to see Sperm whales. If you want some exciting news pertaining to Sperm whales, read our article on a fierce battle between a sperm whale and giant squid.

#7 Fin Whale

YouTube video
StatisticValue
Scientific NameBalaenoptera physalus
FamilyBalaenopteridae
Average Length20 – 26 meters (66 – 85 feet)
Average Weight40 – 80 tons (36,000 – 72,000 kg)
LifespanUp to 90 years
Population StatusEndangered
Population SizeApproximately 50,000 – 90,000 individuals (as of 2021)
HabitatOceans worldwide, primarily in deep and offshore waters
RangeFound in all major oceans, with higher concentrations in colder waters
DietKrill, small fish, and squid
Conservation StatusEndangered
ThreatsHistorical whaling, ship strikes, entanglement in fishing gear, habitat degradation, underwater noise pollution

The fin whale, scientifically known as Balaenoptera physalus, is the second-largest whale on the planet. They are named fin whales due to their hooked dorsal fin on their back. The fin compromises around two-thirds of the body. Moreover, they have a sleek and streamlined body that carries a v-shaped head. 

The distinctive coloration is another unique feature of fin whales: their body is black or dark brownish-gray on the back and sides, and white on the underside. However, these beautiful whales are soon going extinct. 

Their population first started declining back in the late 1900s when the commercial whaling of fin whales was quite common. 

Subsequently, fin whales were considered endangered under the Endangered Species Conservation Act, and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), since 1970. In addition, fin whales are now listed as endangered under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, too.

Fortunately, there are still some areas where you can witness these disappearing creatures; you can explore further by reading our article on the top places to see Fin whales.

#8 Bowhead Whales

StatisticValue
Scientific NameBalaena mysticetus
FamilyBalaenidae
Average Length14 – 18 meters (46 – 59 feet)
Average Weight75 – 100 tons (68,000 – 90,700 kg)
LifespanUp to 200 years
Population StatusLeast Concern
Population SizeApproximately 10,000 – 12,000 individuals (as of 2021)
HabitatArctic and subarctic regions
RangeArctic Ocean and adjacent seas
DietZooplankton, small fish, and benthic organisms
Conservation StatusLeast Concern
ThreatsHistorical whaling (population recovery), climate change, habitat degradation

Bowheads, scientifically known as Balaena Mysticetus, are thought to be the oldest mammals on our planet as they have the largest lifespan, reaching well over 100 years. In addition, this unique specie of whales has the ability to live in icy waters. 

But sadly, this oldest mammal is nearing extinction as the species is already enlisted as critically endangered. The leading factor contributing to their endangerment is commercial whaling. 

Please note that the bowhead whales have been largely used for commercial whaling since the early 1800s. Although the commercial whaling of bowheads was banned in 1921, it continued till the mid-1900s.

Due to this constant whaling that lasted for more than a century, their population declined to less than 3000 whales back in 1921. 

The prime reason for their whaling was the economic value of their oil and baleen. Also, bowheads tend to float on the water once killed, which makes hunting this previous species very convenient for hunters.

Despite bowhead’s commercial whaling was banned in 1921 already, their population is constantly decreasing. This is due to food deprivation, vessel strikes, pollution, sea predators, and climate change. 

Viewing their constant population decline, bowhead whales are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1971. Moreover, it is recognized as endangered under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

#9 Humpback Whales

humpback whale endangered
StatisticValue
Scientific NameMegaptera novaeangliae
FamilyBalaenopteridae
Average Length12 – 16 meters (39 – 52 feet)
Average Weight25 – 40 tons (22,700 – 36,300 kg)
LifespanUp to 50 years
Population StatusLeast Concern
Population SizeApproximately 80,000 individuals (as of 2021)
HabitatOceans worldwide, nearshore and coastal waters
RangeFound in all major oceans, migrating between polar and tropical waters
DietKrill, small fish, and plankton
Conservation StatusLeast Concern
ThreatsHistorical whaling (population recovery), entanglement in fishing gear, habitat degradation, underwater noise pollution

The humpback whale is another critically endangered species of baleen whales. 

Humpback whales are rorqual and belong to the family Balaenopteridae. The average lifespan of humpback whales ranges from 45 to 50 years. Moreover, these types of whales have a very distinctive body shape, especially their long pectoral fins and knobbly head. 

There is no specific habitat of humpbacks as they can live in any ocean in the world. However, their population have been suffering a serious decline for the past few decades, which is why there are only a few individuals left on earth. The primary threat to their existence is human activities that may include commercial whaling, entanglement in fishing gear, vessel strikes, and vessel-based harassment.

Fortunately, there are still some areas where you can witness these endagered creatures; you can explore further by reading our article on the top places to see Humpback whales.

#10 Beluga Whales

beluga whale endangered
StatisticValue
Scientific NameDelphinapterus leucas
FamilyMonodontidae
Average Length3 – 5 meters (10 – 16 feet)
Average Weight1 – 1.5 tons (900 – 1,360 kg)
LifespanUp to 50 years
Population StatusNear Threatened
Population SizeApproximately 150,000 – 170,000 individuals (as of 2021)
HabitatArctic and subarctic coastal waters
RangeNorthern regions of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans
DietFish, squid, shrimp, and other marine invertebrates
Conservation StatusNear Threatened
ThreatsClimate change, habitat degradation, pollution, disturbance, hunting

Beluga whales is another distinctive species of whales whose extinction is predicted in the next few years. 

Beluga whales are also known as White Whales. Their speciality is their unusual color which makes them the most unique species of whales. 

Another distinctive feature of Belugas is their social behavior. Talking about their social behavior, it’s important to mention their nickname which is chirrups as they are extremely vocal. 

Interestingly, they use the unique language of certain clicks, clangs, and whistles for communication. 

Sadly, this unique species of toothed whales is soon to be on the verge of extinction. Luckily though, their population in the United States remains stable. However, ship collisions are pinned as the main reason for their endangerment in other regions of the world.
Explore the Beluga Whale in more depth with our article all about this white whale!

#11 Narwhal Whales

StatisticValue
Scientific NameMonodon monoceros
FamilyMonodontidae
Average LengthMales: 4 – 5 meters (13 – 16 feet) <br> Females: 3 – 4 meters (10 – 13 feet)
Average WeightMales: 1,600 – 1,800 kg (3,500 – 4,000 lbs) <br> Females: 900 – 1,600 kg (2,000 – 3,500 lbs)
LifespanUp to 50 years
Population StatusNear Threatened
Population SizeApproximately 50,000 – 80,000 individuals (as of 2021)
HabitatArctic and subarctic coastal waters, sea ice
RangeArctic regions, primarily in Canada, Greenland, and Russia
DietFish (cod, Greenland halibut), squid, shrimp, and other marine invertebrates
Conservation StatusNear Threatened
ThreatsClimate change, habitat degradation, noise pollution, hunting

Narwhales are the most fascinating species of whales with long ivory tusks that protrude from their heads. Unfortunately, the world will soon face the extinction of this unique whales species. 

Due to their deeply fascinating look, Narwhals are also regarded as the unicorns of the sea. They are medium-sized toothed whales that go through a distinctive color diversification throughout their lifetime. Narwhals’ color diversification is their added exciting feature. 

Specifically, their color changes as they age. Born in blue-gray color, they become blue-black as juveniles, mottled gray as adults, and finally turns all-white once they are old. Surveys suggest that only three breeds of Narwhals are left in the Arctic which used to be their main hub. 

There are a few factors that are contributing to the endangerment of this sea unicorn. Among these factors, the hunt for narwhals is the most pressing reason. Hunters hunt narwhals to sell their long ivory tusks. In addition, ship collisions and the fluctuation in the sea levels, or climate change, have also contributed to the endangerment of these toothed whales.

Final Words

Our whales are incredibly important to the ocean’s ecosystems. If they reach extinction it will send shock waves throughout the world’s seas and affect all marine life.

whales endangered animals

Although whales are so much bigger than us humans they are still in urgent need of our assistance. Since they’re mammals we share a significant amount of DNA with them, of course we must help our distant cousins! It is vital that we raise awareness about their precarious position and support marine conservation programmes.

Thank you for reading this article! If you still crave more knowledge about the species inhabiting our oceans you should take a look at the Top 10 Dangerous Marine Animals.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Why are whales endangered?
A: Whales are endangered primarily due to historical whaling practices, which significantly reduced their populations. Other factors contributing to their endangerment include habitat degradation, climate change, pollution, entanglement in fishing gear, underwater noise pollution, and collisions with ships.

Q: How are endangered whales protected?
A: Endangered whales are protected through various conservation measures. These include international agreements such as the International Whaling Commission’s moratorium on commercial whaling, regulations on hunting and fishing practices, establishment of protected areas, monitoring and research initiatives, and public awareness campaigns to promote whale conservation.

Q: What is the main threat to endangered whales today?
A: The main threats to endangered whales today include habitat degradation and loss, entanglement in fishing gear (known as bycatch), underwater noise pollution from human activities such as shipping and oil exploration, climate change impacts on their food sources, and pollution (such as marine debris and chemical contaminants) affecting their health.

Q: Are all whale species endangered? A: Not all whale species are endangered. However, many species are classified under various conservation statuses, ranging from least concern to critically endangered.

Q: How can individuals help protect endangered whales?
A: Individuals can contribute to whale conservation efforts by supporting organizations working to protect whales, participating in beach clean-ups to reduce marine pollution, promoting responsible whale watching practices, reducing plastic usage to prevent marine debris, supporting sustainable seafood choices, and raising awareness about the importance of whale conservation within their communities.

Q: Are there efforts to recover endangered whale populations?
A: Yes, there are ongoing efforts to recover endangered whale populations. These efforts involve habitat conservation, reducing threats such as entanglement in fishing gear and ship strikes, implementing regulations and policies to protect whales, conducting research to understand their behavior and population dynamics, and collaborating on international conservation initiatives.

Q: Can ecotourism benefit endangered whales?
A: Ecotourism can benefit endangered whales if conducted responsibly and with proper regulations in place. Well-managed whale watching activities can provide economic incentives for conservation, raise awareness about the importance of protecting whales and their habitats, and promote sustainable practices that minimize disturbance to the animals.

Q: How can climate change impact endangered whales?
A: Climate change can impact endangered whales in various ways. It can alter their oceanic habitats by affecting water temperature, sea ice patterns, and the distribution of their prey species. Climate change can also contribute to sea-level rise, ocean acidification, and changes in ocean currents, which can disrupt their feeding and migration patterns, and ultimately impact their survival and reproductive success.

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