Where Do Whales Live?

Whales can be found inhabiting all of the worlds major oceans from the Arctic and Antarctic oceans to the tropical waters in and around the center of the equator.

Depending on species and migration patterns some whales may be found particularly abundant in some locations while completely absent in others.

Factors such as food supply, the whales overall size (which affects the climate the whale can comfortably survive in) and mating grounds may also affect the location of a particular species of whale.

For example killer whales (part of the dolphin family) can be found in all of the major oceans of the world, but are more concerned with migrating to where their food supply goes than where they mate, therefore their prey plays a large role in where the killer whale lives.

Humpback whales on the other hand travel thousands of miles from the colder polar regions they inhibit to warmer tropical climates during migration periods to find a mate and bear offspring.

During these trips humpback whales will completely forgo eating and focus primarily on traveling to their mating grounds.

Some species of whale may inhibit a small region year-long and choose not to make long migration trips.

The bowhead whale for example will spend the entire year traveling around the Arctic/sub Arctic waters and only make small trips from one location to the other.

So where do whales live?

Killer Whale – The killer whale can be seen traveling throughout the worlds major oceans, but they typically prefer cooler climates compared to the tropical climates found near the equator. As stated earlier the migration pattern of these dolphins is more often than not determined by their prey’s migration.

Gray WhaleGray whales are often found swimming in the eastern and western north pacific ocean during feeding season and will migrate towards the Baja peninsula of mexico and the southern golf of california where they can mate and bare off spring during their mating period.

Humpback WhaleWhile humpback whales can be found traveling all over the world, however they prefer the cold waters in and around the Arctic and Antarctic oceans.

Blue Whale – Blue whales can also be found traveling all the major oceans. They can often be seen swimming in the colder regions during feeding season and will migrate towards tropical waters when mating season comes around.

Bowhead Whale – Unlike other species of whale bowhead whales are generally found traveling in the Arctic/sub Arctic ocean year round and aren’t known for making long migration trips.

Minke Whale – There are two known species of minke whales currently in existence, the common or north Atlantic minke whale (which inhibits the north Atlantic waters) and the Antarctic or southern minke whale (which lives in the Antarctic region south of the equator). Due to differences in climate changes in both regions the two species of whale do not meet one another during mating periods (when they travel towards the equator) because their mating seasons are different.

Sperm Whale - Sperm whales can be found in all of the worlds major oceans. Female sperm whales and their young prefer to stay in near tropical waters all year-long while the males can be seen traveling back and forth from the colder climates to the warmer climates during mating periods.

Beluga Whale – Beluga whales are generally found swimming in shallow coastal water in and around Arctic waters. Depending on the area and environment the whale is in some beluga whales will make seasonal migration trips while others will only travel within a small localized area.

Narwhal Whale – Narwhal whales can be found living in or near the Canadian Arctic and Greenlandic waters throughout the year. During the fall and winter they migrate away from the coastal waters (off shore) in order to avoid large areas of ice and frozen water and will move back towards coastal grounds during the warmer spring and summer months.

Don’t forget to check out our inforgraphic on where whales live.

Habitat, migration and reproduction

While this may not always be the case it appears that whales that migrate from cold to tropical environments between feeding and mating periods tend to have seasonal reproductive cycles and gestation periods.

From our research we can assume that some migratory whales tend to follow a 10 – 12 months gestation period which allows them to mate and reproduce in their warmer tropical/sub tropical mating environments.

Non migratory whales or those that do not make large migration trips tend to have more sporadic gestation period lengths which can vary from 10 – 17 months.

For example killer whales are known to follow the migratory patterns of their prey and can mate any time of the year, although they do have a prime time for mating.

Although these marine mammals can be found in many different oceans they aren’t known for taking long migration trips.

They also have one of the longest gestation lengths of any cetacean with pregnancies lasting anywhere from 15 – 17 months.

Bowhead whales are also known to have gestation periods that last longer than a year.

Unlike other whale species these animals are known to inhibit the same cold environment throughout the course of the year and may only travel short distances in order to avoid large blocks of ice or areas that are inhabitable during the coldest months.

The gestation period for the bowhead whale is estimated to last 13 – 14 months.

On the other hand humpback whales are known for making one of the longest migration trips of any mammal and will alternate between their cold feeding grounds and warm mating grounds between feeding and mating season.

These marine mammals have a gestation period of around 11 – 12 months which allows them to mate and give birth in their mating environment.

If they had a longer or shorter gestation period they may end up giving birth in a location that is less suitable for them and their children.

As you can see the environment and migration of various cetaceans can play a role in determining how long it is for them to give birth.

If you would like to learn more about the migration patterns of various whale species check out our article on whale migration.