What types of whales can you see in Florida?
Whale-watching is one of the most exciting adventures I can think of! These enormous, fascinating creatures have captured the imagination of many nature lovers.
Below, you will find pictures and descriptions of the whales found in Florida. I’ve also included RANGE MAPS and fun facts about each species.
Although there are many interesting facts about whales, I kept each description brief to cover all the species. So, you may want to consider purchasing the book below if you want more information.
7 WHALES in Florida!
- You might notice some of the animals below are dolphins instead of true whales. I included them here because “whale” is in the name or because most people consider them more whale-like. To see the 10 types of DOLPHINS that live in Florida, CLICK HERE.
#1. Sperm Whale
- Physeter macrocephalus
- Males are up to 52 feet long and weigh 45 tons, while females grow to 40 feet and weigh 15 tons.
- Their coloring is uniformly dark gray with a slightly paler underbelly.
- Body is oddly proportioned, with a large, blocky head, small fins, and mismatched upper and lower jaws.
The Sperm Whale is the loudest whale in Florida!
Its call can reach 230 decibels, loud enough to deafen humans several times over. Not only that, the force of their sound is so powerful that you could be vibrated to death if you were too close to its call. Incredibly, the sound travels through seawater much more effectively than through air, so we hear their calls as faint noises above the water.
In addition to their powerful calls, these whales are also capable of amazing physical feats. They can dive to 3,200 meters (two miles) and stay submerged for up to an hour! They regularly spend time at depths of 1,000 meters (0.6 miles) or more.
Part of the reason they prefer deep water is their feeding preferences. Their main food source, the giant squid, lives in extremely deep water, and these two massive animals have some epic deep sea battles. Scientists have learned much about the giant squid from examining the scars on Sperm Whales. These scars have revealed that the whales routinely eat squid that are equal to them in size. It’s almost impossible to imagine a squid that large!
#2. Pygmy Sperm Whale
- Kogia breviceps
- Adults grow to 11.5 feet and weigh 700 to 1,000 pounds.
- Their coloring is dark gray with a patch of white on the belly.
- They have blocky heads and a pointed snout, giving them a shark-like appearance.
Pygmy Sperm Whales are a widespread species throughout the world’s oceans, inhabiting temperate and tropical waters.
This species is cryptic and avoids ships and aircraft, which makes it very difficult to observe them in the wild. Gathering data about their population and behavior is made even more difficult because they like to spend time with other species. Scientists often observe them together with Dwarf Sperm Whales, which makes them very difficult to identify and examine in detail.
Interestingly, Pygmy Sperm Whales also squirt ink at predators. This unique adaptation to evade danger suggests that they were historically preyed upon by larger species. Although it might be hard for us to imagine now, at one time, these large creatures were the “small fish!”
#3. Short-finned Pilot Whale
- Globicephala macrorhynchus
- Adults are 12 to 24 feet long and weigh between 2,200 and 6,600 pounds.
- Their coloring is dark gray to nearly black, with slightly lighter gray patches on the back and chest.
- They have a blocky, square head and no rostrum (nose).
If you enjoy whale-watching, the Short-finned Pilot Whale is one species you’ve probably seen on an excursion. They range throughout tropical and temperate oceans and are reliably found in deep water near the continental shelf. Most Short-finned Pilot Whales are nomadic, traveling wherever hunting and weather conditions are most favorable.
This species is one of the most social types of whales in Florida.
They live in tight-knit family groups and usually remain in their family pod for their entire lives. They live, play, and hunt together but mate with members of other pods during social gatherings.
Sadly, Short-finned Pilot Whales are often involved in mass strandings. Though the reason is not clear, the cause is likely to be related to their extremely close social bonds. It’s believed that pilot whales cannot abandon their pod members to save themselves when disaster strikes.
#4. Pygmy Killer Whale
- Feresa attenuata
- Adults grow up to 8.5 feet long and weigh a maximum of 496 pounds.
- Their coloring is very gray to black all over, with a cape over the head and upper back that’s slightly darker than the rest of the body.
- They have small rounded heads and no visible beak.
Pygmy Killer Whales are one of the most elusive whales in Florida.
They prefer to stay in their pods, which they remain with their entire lives. When they come to the surface to breathe, they’re more likely to form a line and nap rather than engage in showy breaching displays.
This species likes to stay in the deep water outside the continental shelf, in tropical and subtropical water. Because of their affinity for deep water, it’s unlikely to spot them on a whale-watching tour. Even dedicated researchers have trouble observing Pygmy Killer Whales!
Though they avoid humans, they are very social with members of their species and form pods of fifty or more individuals if prey is plentiful. Pygmy Killer Whales eat squid, octopuses, and fish.
As you might imagine, this species becomes very aggressive in captivity, which is understandable given their pelagic lifestyles. They’re known to attack handlers and other dolphin species in captivity.
#5. Melon-headed Whale
- Peponocephala electra
Also known as the Melon Whale, Electra Dolphin, and Many-toothed Blackfish.
- Adults grow up to 9 feet long and reach a maximum weight of 460 pounds.
- Their overall coloring is medium gray, with a slightly darker “cape” over the head and back.
- They have a rounded head that comes to a point over the nose and tall dorsal fins.
Melon-headed Whales are playful and gregarious! You’re likely to catch this species breaching high above the water’s surface or riding the bow waves of boats. In addition, they often leap through the water athletically while swimming.
Melon-headed Whales have a clear routine, which makes them rather easy to observe. They hunt after dark when the squid and cuttlefish they eat are more likely to be active and nearer the surface. They rest in the morning, then spend the afternoon socializing and playing.
These whales are extremely social and are often spotted in groups of up to a thousand. Their social nature and large aggregations explain why Melon-headed Whales have successfully stayed more interconnected genetically than other species. Their large gene pool allows them to adapt to threats over time in a way that small, genetically-isolated populations cannot.
#6. Humpback Whale
- Megaptera novaeangliae
- Adults can reach 60 feet and weigh up to 40 tons.
- Their coloring is black, with white markings on the belly and pectoral fins.
- The fins are wavy, and the nose is covered in bumpy protrusions. The belly is often ridged.
This species is one of the most wide-ranging whales in Florida.
The same whales that can be observed feeding in the waters around Alaska in summer travel to Hawaii during the winter months! Humpback Whales follow the same migration patterns year after year, making them easy to spot on whale-watching expeditions.
Whale watchers love to see Humpback Whales exhibit their showy behavior. They often breach high out of the water, slapping their bodies and fins against the surface. Scientists believe that the loud sounds produced by their breaching are a form of communication with other whales.
Krill, a type of tiny crustacean very similar to shrimp, is the primary food source of these gigantic whales. Humpback Whales, like the other great whales, lack teeth. Instead, they have hair-like plates called baleen that hang down from their upper jaws. Whales take huge gulps of water into their mouths and capture thousands of krill. Then they filter the water back out through the baleen plates, trapping the krill inside.
#7. North Atlantic Right Whale
- Eubalaena glacialis
- Adults grow up to 52 feet long and can weigh up to 70 tons.
- This species’ coloring is black overall, with mottling and white patches on the underside.
- Their body shape is wide and short for their overall size. In addition, they lack dorsal fins, and their pectoral fins are very small.
- They have a prominent upside-down smile due to the depth of their jaws, and their baleen plates are usually on display.
Whale watchers lucky enough to observe these rare animals will enjoy their endearing behavior. North Atlantic Right Whales breach from the water in impressive displays, often coming nearly all the way out of the water before twisting back down. In addition, they are very social and gather together in groups at the surface throughout the year.
Unfortunately, these incredible creatures are critically endangered. They get their name literally from being called the “right” whale to hunt by fishermen during the whaling era. They were ideal targets because they are slow, swim close to the shore, and float after they die.
After being heavily hunted during the 1800s and 1900s, North Atlantic Right Whale populations slowly increased until around 2010. Sadly, since then, the population has declined.
Today, these rare whales are killed by entanglement in fishing gear and boat strikes. Healthy calves are few and far between, which further reduces their population. Breeding problems could be related to contaminants, food shortages, or the stress of non-lethal entanglements in fishing gear.
North Atlantic Right Whales in eastern Florida are likely to be capable of living far longer than we currently observe. They may be able to live until around 70 or even 100 years old, but the average life expectancy is between 45 and 65 years. The cause of death is usually related to human activity.
Do you want to learn about LAND MAMMALS found in Florida?
Check out this field guide!
23 COMMON Mammals in Florida! (ID Guide)
Which of these whales have you seen in Florida?
Let us know in the comments!