What types of whales can you see in Maine?
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 Maine. 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 Maine!
- 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 11 types of DOLPHINS that live in Maine, CLICK HERE.
#1. Beluga Whale
- Delphinapterus leucas
- Adults grow up to 16 feet long and weigh 3,150 pounds.
- They are white all over, with no shading for camouflage.
- Their bodies appear chubby and soft due to a thick layer of blubber.
Beluga Whales are perfectly adapted to living in the frozen waters of the Arctic Circle. Their thick blubber means that they can thrive in the frigid water over winter. In addition, instead of having a dorsal fin, these whales have tough ridges along their spines, which resist damage when surfacing among fast-moving ice floes.
This species is extremely important to the survival of Native people in the Arctic. Although the commercial harvest of Beluga Whales is illegal, subsistence harvesting by Native groups is legal, and its practice is not harmful to the Beluga population.
You’re most likely to recognize the Beluga Whale by its uniquely shaped head. They have extremely pronounced melons, which are segregated from their short rostrums (noses). The melon is a fat-filled organ that aids in communication and echolocation.
In addition to their recognizable heads, Beluga Whales are extremely vocal. They mimic the sounds they hear around them. This skill has earned them the nickname “canaries of the sea.” They are very social and tend to be curious around humans rather than fearful.
Beluga Whales are also able to move between salt and freshwater. They swim into estuaries, rivers, and inlets in pursuit of fish, making them easier to observe in the calm, more hospitable inland waters.
#2. Long-finned Pilot Whale
- Globicephala melas
- Adults grow to between 19 and 25 feet long and weigh 2,900 to 5,000 pounds.
- Their overall coloring is dark gray to black, but their back and chest patches are white, contrasting with Short-finned Pilot Whales.
- They also have a blocky head and absent rostrum, but their fins are long and hooked.
Long-finned Pilot Whales in Maine prefer cooler temperatures than their short-finned cousins, so they have a different global distribution. They can be found in temperate and subpolar waters. Though they favor water around the continental shelf, they are also commonly spotted farther offshore in very deep areas.
Members of this species live in tight-knit family groups that follow the maternal line. These pods, usually with 10 to 20 individuals, also associate loosely with other pods in their general area. As a result, Long-finned Pilot Whales can be observed in huge gatherings that can exceed thousands of individuals.
One of the most interesting features of Long-finned Pilot Whales is their eating. Instead of snapping their teeth closed around their prey like most other dolphins, they retract their large tongue, causing negative pressure inside their mouths, which draws in water along with their meal. So, in essence, they suck their prey up like a giant vacuum cleaner!
#3. Orca (Killer Whale)
- Orcinus orca
- Adults grow up to 32 feet long and weigh as much as 11 tons.
- Their distinctive coloring is instantly recognizable: Black overall, with a stark white underside and white patches under each eye.
- Orcas’ dorsal fins are large, triangular, and point straight up or fall to one side.
Orcas are perhaps the most well-known whale in Maine.
Although we refer to this species as a whale, the Orca is, in fact, the largest species of dolphin. Due to its recognizable coloring and widespread distribution, it would be challenging to find anyone who doesn’t know at least a little about this species!
Their adaptability is a true marvel and the reason they have spread into every corner of the globe. They occur throughout temperate and even some tropical seas. Additionally, Orcas are incredibly capable hunters and are widely regarded as the ocean’s top predator. Even fully-grown great white sharks occasionally fall prey to these skilled predators.
Intelligence and strong social bonds are two key factors that make this species so formidable in hunting. Orcas can hunt dangerous animals such as sharks by working together as a team to incapacitate the prey with minimal risk to themselves.
Despite their tremendous adaptability, some populations are still at risk. For example, the Southern Resident population off the west coast of the US is suffering from the impacts of human activity, which causes food scarcity and increased boat traffic. Conversely, the transient Bigg’s Orca is doing well. These pods hunt marine mammals rather than fish, so they are less affected by overfishing. They also move around more and live further from the coast, so human activity doesn’t impact them as much.
#4. 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 Maine.
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.
#5. Fin Whale
- Balaenoptera physalus
- Adults are 75 to 85 feet long and weigh 40 to 80 tons.
- The coloring is light gray-brown across the back and white on the underside, and a wavy pattern forms where the two colors meet.
- This species has a remarkably slender, streamlined body for such a large whale.
Fin Whales are the fastest swimmers of the great whales. This ability likely evolved to help them evade predation, especially by orcas that work together to hunt and kill young or vulnerable individuals.
Their speed is unnecessary for their hunting needs, though, because Fin Whales feed on krill, schools of tiny fish, and squid. Instead, they use a technique known as lunge feeding to speed through a tightly-grouped ball of prey, swallowing as many as possible
Fin Whales were hunted to near extinction during the 19th and 20th centuries. Thanks to their fast swimming pace and preference for offshore waters, they avoided predation during the primitive years of whaling. Unfortunately, as whaling techniques modernized and mechanized, they became victims of the industry.
But as conservation of whale species became a priority, the population of Fin Whales rebounded somewhat. Nevertheless, they are still in danger of extinction throughout their range.
#6. Minke Whale
- Balaenoptera acutorostrata
- Adults grow up to 35 feet long and weigh a maximum of 10 tons.
- Their upper bodies are uniformly black and contrast sharply with their white undersides. They have large gray patches behind the pectoral fins.
- The body shape is much thicker than most large whales, with large fins and tails.
Minke Whales are very widely distributed and can be found in every ocean. In summer, they inhabit polar waters, where food is very abundant. It’s common to see them grouped with up to 400 individuals where food is plentiful. Minke Whales are very opportunistic feeders and eat a wide range of small schooling fish, tiny crustaceans, and plankton.
In winter, Minke Whales head to warmer waters and disperse widely in pairs or alone. This is likely a strategy to avoid orcas that hunt Minke Whales due to their relatively small size. In addition, they will swim much faster than normal to try to outrun orcas.
If you spot one, you may recognize a Minke Whale by its unique surfacing style when they come up for air. The tip of their snout appears from the water first, then they roll the length of their bodies along the surface and dive down using their entire tail.
#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 Maine 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 Maine?
Check out this field guide!
26 COMMON Mammals in Maine! (ID Guide)
Which of these whales have you seen in Maine?
Let us know in the comments!