Microsatellites are one of the most important classes of nuclear genetic markers and offer many advantages for the study of marine mammals. Here we describe the isolation and characterization of 12 cetacean microsatellites which are then tested across 30 different cetacean species. For around half the species tested, five or more polymorphic loci were identified. Since many species were represented by only one or two specimens, this figure is likely to underestimate the usefulness of these markers. No relationship was found between microsatellite repeat length and proportion of species which gave polymorphic products.