We sequenced the mitochondrial DNA D-loop regions from two cetacean species and compared these with the published D-loop sequences of several other mammalian species, including one other cetacean. Nucleotide substitution rates, DNA sequence simplicity, possible open reading frames (ORFs), and potential RNA secondary structure were investigated. The substitution rate is an order of magnitude lower than would be expected on the basis of reports on human sequence variation in this region but are consistent with interspecific primate and rodent D-loop sequence variation and with estimates of substitution rates from whole mitochondrial genomes. Deletions/insertions are less common in the cetacean D-loop than in other vertebrate species. Areas of high sequence simplicity (clusters of short repetitive motifs) across the region correspond to areas of high sequence divergence. Three regions predicted to form secondary structures are homologous to such putative structures in other species; however, the presumptive structures most conserved in cetaceans are different from those reported for other taxa. While all three species have possible long ORFs, only a short sequence of seven amino acids is shared with other mammalian species, and those changes that had occurred within it are all nonsynonymous. We conclude that DNA slippage, in addition to point mutation, contributes to the evolution of the D-loop and that regions of conserved secondary structure in cetaceans and an ORF are unlikely to contribute significantly to the conservation of the central region.