Animal Info - North Atlantic Right Whale
(Other Names: Baleine de Biscaye, Baleine des Basques, Ballena, Ballena Franca del Norte, Ballenga, Biscayan Right Whale, Black Right Whale, Northern Right Whale, Right Whale)
Eubalaena glacialis (Balaena g.)
1. Profile (Picture)
Pictures: North Atlantic Right Whale #1 (7 Kb JPEG); North Atlantic Right Whale #2 (26 Kb JPEG) (Univ. Wash.); North Atlantic Right Whale #3 (55 Kb JPEG) (Swiss Cetacean Soc.); North Atlantic Right Whale #4 (58 Kb JPEG) (Oregon State Univ.)
The North Atlantic right whale weighs up to 100,000 kg (220,000 lb) and is up to 17 m (56') long. It can easily be distinguished from the other great whales by its lack of a dorsal fin or dorsal ridge; its stout, robust stature; and the presence of distinctive growths on the head known as "callosities". Right whales are individually identifiable by their pattern of callosities. The right whale is usually found in temperate waters. It is found closer to land than are most large whales, especially during the breeding season. Calves may be born in the protected waters of a shallow bay.
The North Atlantic right whale feeds alone or in small groups. Its food consists primarily of small marine crustaceans. Right whales are " skim feeders", moving slowly through the water with their mouths partially open, continuously straining the food items with their long baleen. The North Atlantic right whale migrates to more northerly latitudes for summer feeding, and back south to temperate waters in the fall and winter for breeding.
A relatively slow swimmer, the North Atlantic right whale averages about 8 km/h (6 mi/h). It usually does not fear boats and can be easily approached by them. North Atlantic right whales usually travel alone or in groups of 2 - 3 (up to about 12). The membership of groups of right whales does not seem to remain fixed. Identifiable individuals can be seen moving from one group to another. An individual female mates with multiple males. Apparently, mating pairs do not establish long-term social bonds.
The North Atlantic right whale occurs in the Atlantic Ocean: during the summer from Davis Strait, Denmark Strait, and the Norwegian Sea south to Massachusetts and the Bay of Biscay; during the winter it ranges south to Florida and the Golfo de Cintra (23°N), Western Sahara. The species is close to extinction in the Eastern North Atlantic. Overfishing by the whaling industry caused the North Atlantic right whale's decline. Its most serious threats are collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear. More than half of the living right whales in the Western North Atlantic have experienced at least one ship-strike or net entanglement.
*** The North Atlantic right whale is one of the world's rarest mammals.
*** Female right whales have a very strong protective maternal instinct. This was taken advantage of by early whalers, who captured the calf first, knowing that the mother was then unlikely to escape.
*** Right whales were so named because they were the "right" whale to hunt: they are slow; they float when killed; they are found in temperate waters; and they have a high yield of oil.
*** Loss of gene diversity experienced by North Atlantic right whales over the last century has been modest. Any significant reduction in genetic variation in the species most likely occurred prior to the late 19th century. (Rosenbaum et al. 2000)
Taxonomy and nomenclature of the right whales are in flux, but there is no doubt that the populations in the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans are completely isolated from each other and from the population in the Southern Ocean. Recent genetic evidence supports the recognition of three species, North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica) and Southern right whale (Eubalaena australis). (Reeves et al. 2003)
2004: Occurs in the Atlantic Ocean (northwest, western central). (IUCN 2004)
The North Atlantic right whale was once abundant and distributed throughout the North Atlantic. It was hunted starting in the 10th - 11th centuries. Catches peaked between the 13th - 17th centuries but continued, at a low level, into the 20th century. By 1700 it was too rare to be of economic importance.
The North Atlantic right whale occurs in the Atlantic Ocean: during the summer from Davis Strait, Denmark Strait, and the Norwegian Sea south to Massachusetts and the Bay of Biscay; during the winter it ranges south to Florida and the Golfo de Cintra (23°N), Western Sahara. Although right whales are occasionally seen in European waters, the species is close to extinction in the Eastern North Atlantic. The Gulf of Maine, the Bay of Fundy and the Cape Cod area are now important feeding areas, and there is possibly a calving area off Florida. (Klinowska 1991, IUCN 2003a, Reeves et al. 2003)
Overfishing by the whaling industry caused the North Atlantic right whale's decline. Its most serious threats are collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear. More than half of the living right whales in the Western North Atlantic have experienced at least one ship-strike or net entanglement. The species is at risk from collisions with ships and entanglement in nets because it is relatively slow-moving, spends a fair amount of time near the surface, and lives in the midst of one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. At least a third of the deaths in this population each year are thought to be directly linked to human activities. (Shine 2001, Reeves et al. 2003)
In addition, because the North Atlantic right whale is dependent on coastal habitat, it may be more vulnerable to impacts from human activity, such as pollution, than many other cetaceans. Furthermore, because the population is so small and slow-growing, even minor sources of mortality may have a significant impact.
Size and Weight:
Arkive, Bonner 1989, Burton & Pearson 1987, Curry-Lindahl 1972, Focus 2004a, IUCN 1966, IUCN 1994, IUCN 1996, IUCN 2000, IUCN 2003a, IUCN 2004, Klinowska 1991, Macdonald 1984, NMFS, Nowak & Paradiso 1983, Olson & Dinerstein 1998, Olson & Dinerstein 1999, Oregon State Univ., Oryx 1997i, Oryx 1999c, Reeves 1982, Reeves et al. 2003, Rosenbaum et al. 2000, Shine 2001, Swiss Cetacean Soc., Univ. Wash., Wilson & Ruff 1999
Last modified: November 2, 2005;