North Carolina Cetaceans

Humpback whale lunge feeding on menhaden near Cape Lookout, NC, 5 Nov 2015 (Photo by Paula Dailey, NC Maritime Museum under NOAA/NMFS permit)

As of 2021, we have documented 34 species of cetaceans (all whales, including dolphins and porpoises), the Florida manatee, and 4 seal species in North Carolina. The graphic below indicates species documented in North Carolina with red dots.

Cetaceans in North Carolina (art by Uko Gorter)

Thanks to the talented and generous artist Uko Gorter for the use of his terrific cetacean illustrations in our Bonehenge Whale Center building construction fundraiser and for the use of his poster here. To order your own high-quality print of this fabulous poster (without the red dots), please visit:

North Carolina Marine Mammals

(based on stranding records and/or live sightings)

Kingdom – Animalia
Phylum – Chordata
Class – Mammalia

(Combines all whales, incl. dolphins and porpoises, with even-toed ungulates)

Cetacea (from Greek “cetus” meaning whale) all whales, incl. dolphins and porpoises


(baleen whales)

family Balaenopteridae

blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus)
Rice’s whale (Balaenoptera ricei)
fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)
humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)
minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)
sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis)

family Balaenidae

North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis)

(toothed whales)

family Physeteridae

sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus)

family Kogiidae

dwarf sperm whale (Kogia sima)
pygmy sperm whale (Kogia breviceps)

family Zipihiidae

Blainville’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon densirostris)
Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris)
Gervais’ beaked whale (Mesoplodon europaeus)
True’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon mirus)
Northern Bottlenose Whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus)

family Delphinidae

Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis)
Atlantic white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus)
bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Clymene dolphin (Stenella clymene)
common dolphin (Delphinus delphis)
false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens)
Fraser’s dolphin (Lagenodelphis hosei)
killer whale (Orcinus orca)
long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas)
melon-headed whale (Peponocephala electra)
pantropical spotted Dolphin (Stenella attenuata)
pygmy killer whale (Feresa attenuata)
Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus)
rough-toothed dolphin (Steno bredanensis)
short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus)
spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris)
striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba)
white-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris)

family Phocoenidae

harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena)

ORDER – Serenia

family Trichechidae

Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris)
Subspecies of the West Indian manatee

ORDER – Carnivora

Suborder Pinnipedia

family Phocidae

harbor seal (Phoca vitulina)
Gray seal (Halichoerus grypus)
harp seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus)
hooded seal (Cystophora cristata)


Click through the gallery below to see more images of North Carolina cetaceans.

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