The use of historical and ancient tissue samples for genetic analysis is increasing, with ever greater numbers of samples proving to contain sufficient mitochondrial and even nuclear DNA for multilocus analysis. DNA yield, however, remains highly variable and largely unpredictable based solely on sample morphology or age. Quantification of DNA from historical and degraded samples can greatly improve efficiency of screening DNA extracts prior to attempting sequencing or genotyping, but requires sequence-specific quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) based assays to detect such minute quantities of degraded DNA. We present two qPCR assays for marine mammal DNA quantification, and results from analysis of DNA extracted from preserved soft tissues, bone, baleen, and tooth from several cetacean species. These two assays have been shown to amplify DNA from 26 marine mammal species representing 12 families of pinnipeds and cetaceans. Our results indicate that different tissues retain different ratios of mitochondrial to nuclear DNA, and may be more or less suitable for analysis of nuclear loci. Specifically, historical bone and tooth samples average 60-fold higher ratio of mitochondrial DNA to nuclear DNA than preserved fresh soft tissue, and the ratio is almost 8000-fold higher in baleen.