What types of whales can you see in Texas?
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 Texas. 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.
4 WHALES in Texas!
- 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 Texas, 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 Texas!
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 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 Texas.
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.
#3. 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.
#4. 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.
Do you want to learn about LAND MAMMALS found in Texas?
Check out this field guide!
26 COMMON Mammals in Texas! (ID Guide)
Which of these whales have you seen in Texas?
Let us know in the comments!