The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered
whales in the world. Its name comes from the idea that it was the "right" whale
to hunt: it was slow moving, floated after death and had enormous amounts of
oil and baleen. Even though commercial whaling ended in 1935, fewer than
500 right whales are alive today.
Size Up to 55 feet long and up to 70 tons
Diet Zooplankton, copepods
Lifespan At least 70 years, and possibly up to 100 years or more
Range North Atlantic, usually from Nova Scotia to southeastern Florida;
occasional sightings in Iceland and Norway
Habitat North Atlantic right whales feed in coastal habitats off New England and
Canada, and their calving grounds are the shallow waters off the Southeastern U.S.
Predators Orcas and large sharks occasionally may hunt calves, but adults
have no predators other than humans.
Relatives There are two other unique right whale species: Southern right whales (found in the Southern Hemisphere) and North Pacific right whales (found in the Pacific Ocean). A more distant relative is the bowhead whale, found in Arctic waters. They are all baleen whales; instead of teeth, they have a filtering apparatus in their mouths that they use to strain food from ocean water. Other baleen whales include humpback, finback and blue whales. All whales, dolphins and porpoises are members of the same order of mammals, Cetacea.
Family life Females give birth every 3 to 5 years to a single calf after a 12-14 month gestation (pregnancy). Calves are completely dependent on their mothers, who care for them for about one year. Right whales mature slowly and females are typically 9 or 10 before they give birth to their first calf. Genetics studies have indicated that males may be 15 before they sire a calf. Right whales usually migrate alone, or as a mother-calf pair, but they are found in large groups on feeding grounds.
Conservation status Critically endangered North Atlantic right whales face an extremely high risk of extinction. Right whales were once hunted by commercial whalers, but today they are most threatened by human activities, including accidental collisions with large ships and entanglements with commercial fishing gear and ropes.
North Atlantic right whales and climate change Changes of seawater temperature, winds and water currents can affect can affect right whale food sources. Read more ...
Voices in the Sea Learn more about the sounds North Atlantic right whales and other cetaceans make at the interactive Voices in the Sea exhibit on Level 2 in the Aquarium. The program is available online here.