Abstract The literature on organochlorine and metal contaminants in tissues of baleen whales includes data for approximately 1000 individuals in 10 species from various oceans of the world. Concentrations of these contaminants in tissues of baleen whales are low. Sources of variation in organochlorine concentrations in whales include age, sex, region of exposure, and feeding habits. Concentrations of ΣDDT and PCBs in baleen whales appear higher in the northern hemisphere than in the southern oceans, perhaps due to greater contamination of northern ecosystem and a higher incidence of fish in the diet. However, maximum concentrations are generally lower in tissues of baleen whales than in other marine mammal species, both on global and local scales. This is predictable based on the general distribution, habitats and trophic levels of baleen whales. We reviewed laboratory studies on the effects of selected organochlorine contaminants on direct mortality and impaired reproduction in other mammals, and critically examined observations attempting to link organochlorines to reproductive and population effects in marine mammals. There is no firm basis to conclude that the contaminants reviewed herein have affected baleen whale populations. Although more information on contaminants in baleen whales would be of value, as a matter of priority, research and management actions should focus on reducing human-caused mortality and increasing habitat carrying capacity for these species.