2 Types of WHALES Found in South Carolina (2024)

What types of whales can you see in South Carolina?

Types of whales in South Carolina

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 South Carolina. 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.

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2 WHALES in South Carolina!


#1. Pygmy Killer Whale

  • Feresa attenuata

Whales in South Carolina

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 South Carolina.

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.


#2. North Atlantic Right Whale

  • Eubalaena glacialis

South Carolina whales

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 South Carolina 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 South Carolina?

Check out this field guide!


Which of these whales have you seen in South Carolina?

Let us know in the comments!

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