North Atlantic Right Whale: Eubalaena glacialis
Genus/Species: Eubalaena glacialis
Common Name: North Atlantic right whale
Federal Status: Endangered
FL Status: Federally-designated Endangered
FNAI Ranks: Not ranked
IUCN Status: EN (Endangered)
The North Atlantic right whale is a dark gray or black whale that can reach a length of 55 feet (16.8 meters) and a weight of 110,000 pounds (49,895 kilograms). Calves (offspring) can reach a length of 15 feet (4.6 meters) and a weight up to 2,000 pounds (907.2 kilograms). The right whale lacks a dorsal (back) fin, leaving a large flat back. The North Atlantic right whale has callosities (bumps) on its head (appears white due to the white lice that convene on it), two rows of 225 baleen (filter) plates on the top jaw, and a broad rigged tail with smooth edges (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, n.d.).
The right whale is a filter feeder and primarily feeds on calanoid copepods – a type of zooplankton (NMFS 2005). It also feeds on small crustaceans and the larva of barnacles (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, n.d.).
North Atlantic right whales are polygamous breeders (a female mates with more than one male), and permanent bonds are not formed between breeding pairs. Females give birth to approximately one calf every three years between the months of December and March off the Atlantic Coast of Florida and Georgia (NMFS 2005). Females do not feed while in the breeding areas off the Georgia and Florida Atlantic coasts. The gestation (pregnancy) period is 12 months, with the calves weaned by the end of their first year (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, n.d.).
Habitat and Distribution
The North Atlantic right whale has six well-known habitats that includes; the Scotian Shelf (east of Nova Scotia), Georges Bank/Gulf of Maine, Bay of Fundy (northeast part of the Gulf of Maine), Cape Cod and Massachusetts Bays, Great South Channel (east of Cape Cod), and the coasts of Georgia and Florida (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration n.d., NMFS 2010).
Historically, right whales were hunted to near extinction. They were given the name “right whale” by fishermen because they were the easiest whales to catch because they swim slowly, float when dead, and they contain large amount of oil that could be utilized. In 1949, the International Whaling Commission made it illegal for right whales to be hunted commercially. Today, the main threat to their population is collisions with large ships and entanglement in fishing gear (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, n.d.). Other threats include habitat degradation from contaminants.
Conservation and Management
The North Atlantic right whale is protected as an Endangered species by the Federal Endangered Species Act and as a Federally-designated Endangered species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule . North Atlantic right whales are also Federally protected as a Depleted species by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Federal Recovery Plan
Other Informative Links
Animal Diversity Web
American Cetacean Society
International Union for Conservation of Nature
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Species Profile
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Services Southeast Region
New England Aquarium
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
World Wildlife Fund
Printable version of this page
National Marine Fisheries Service. 2010. North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis). National Marine Fisheries Service, Silver Spring, MD.
National Marine Fisheries Service. 2005. Recovery Plan for the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis). National Marine Fisheries Service, Silver Spring, MD.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. (n.d.). North Atlantic Right Whale. Retrieved May 18, 2011, from NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/rightwhale_northatlantic.htm
Image Credit FWC