Hunting during the last 200 years reduced many populations of mysticete whales to near extinction. To evaluate potential genetic bottlenecks in these exploited populations, we examined mitochondrial DNA control region sequences from 90 individual humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) representing six subpopulations in three ocean basins. Comparisons of relative nucleotide and nucleotype diversity reveal an abundance of genetic variation in all but one of the oceanic subpopulations. Phylogenetic reconstruction of nucleotypes and analysis of maternal gene flow show that current genetic variation is not due to postexploitation migration between oceans but is a relic of past population variability. Calibration of the rate of control region evolution across three families of whales suggests that existing humpback whale lineages are of ancient origin. Preservation of preexploitation variation in humpback whales may be attributed to their long life-span and overlapping generations and to an effective, though perhaps not timely, international prohibition against hunting.