° Indicates sighting; question mark is a location
where right whales may be found.
Although the five primary areas represent the majority of right whale sightings, there is growing evidence that they are not the only important areas for right whales. We still do not know where more than half of the cataloged whales are during any month other than August, September and, in some years, May. There are also a number of calving females that are not sighted after leaving the southeast U.S. (suggesting another nursery ground) and several females that have recently given birth that were not documented as they matured (suggesting they use none of the four well-studied feeding grounds).
Further, there is growing genetic evidence that the photo-identification efforts are missing a significant number of whales. Two habitats that have been inconsistently surveyed—but where a number of right whales, including calving females, have been seen—are Jeffreys Ledge off New Hampshire and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In addition, some matches have been made to whales off Iceland and near Greenland.
What are the other areas that may be important to right whales? Some possibilities are shown with white question marks in the illustration. Many of these areas are far from shore, cover a large geographic area, and experience harsh weather conditions—all of which make them difficult to survey. Despite these logistic difficulties, there is increasing interest in exploring these places in an effort to unravel the enduring mystery about where else right whales go. It should be noted that because survey efforts have been focused both geographically and temporally on critical habitats and conservation zones during specific times of the year, any whales that are near the coast but at slightly different times or just outside survey boxes may not be detected.