What types of whales can you see in New Jersey?
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 New Jersey. 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.
6 WHALES in New Jersey!
- 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 9 types of DOLPHINS that live in New Jersey, 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 New Jersey!
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. 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 New Jersey.
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.
#3. 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 New Jersey 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!
#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 New Jersey.
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.
Do you want to learn about LAND MAMMALS found in New Jersey?
Check out this field guide!
24 COMMON Mammals in New Jersey! (ID Guide)
Which of these whales have you seen in New Jersey?
Let us know in the comments!