With fewer than 350 North Atlantic right whales remaining, New England Aquarium researchers are working tirelessly to study and protect this critically endangered species.

About North Atlantic Right Whales

Once a heavily-targeted commercial whaling species, the North Atlantic right whale remains vulnerable to contemporary human activities, including vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. With an estimated 336 whales remaining, this species’ recovery is also threatened by low reproduction, habitat loss, disease, and environmental contaminants.

North Atlantic Right Whales are primarily found within 50 miles of the east coasts of the United States and Canada, ranging from Florida to Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence, depending on the time of year. They feed on zooplankton called copepods—microscopic animals about the size of a grain of rice. It’s estimated that a right whale can eat as much as a billion copepods per day—that’s 1 to 2 tons!


Right whale Catalog #3157 and calf, sighted February 10, 2022 approx. 21NM off Cumberland Island, GA. Catalog #3157 is 21 years old and this is her third calf. Her last calf was born in 2014. Photo credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, taken under NOAA permit 20556

Right whale Catalog #3157 and calf, sighted February 10, 2022 approx. 21nm off Cumberland Island, GA. Photo credit: Florida FWC, taken under NOAA permit #20556

New Calves Provide Hope

Each year from December through March, pregnant North Atlantic right whales head to warmer Southeastern waters to give birth. This time of year is known as calving season, where whales and their young can be seen gliding through the water, spurring optimism for this critically endangered marine animal.

Throughout calving season, right whale researchers manage a detailed list of mom and calf pairs with biographical information that includes photographs, lineage, where the whales were last seen, how they were named, and the challenges each whale has faced.


Our Work to Protect Right Whales

The New England Aquarium and our Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life are leading the way in developing innovative, science-based approaches to conserving the North Atlantic right whale. Here are a few ways we are working to protect this critically endangered species.

  1. Nereid with researchers and whale in foreground

    Right Whale Research Team

    Our program, established in 1980, is one of the longest-running and most comprehensive whale research and conservation initiatives in the world.

    ABOUT THE TEAM
  2. Boat Surveys

    Every year, our researchers conduct field research, monitoring Cape Cod Bay, the Bay of Fundy, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence for right whales.

    2021 FIELD WORK
  3. Aerial Surveys

    Our Aerial Survey Team documents animal populations, like the North Atlantic right whale, recording how they travel through and use the ocean.

    LEARN MORE
  4. skim feeding right whale

    Right Whale Catalog

    Maintained by the Aquarium, the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog is a directory of more than a million photographs and physical details of more than 750 living and dead right whales dating back to 1935.

    VIEW THE CATALOG
  5. scientist in lab

    Hormone Analysis

    Aquarium scientists have developed a way to detect pregnancy in North Atlantic right whales through the analysis of fecal samples collected during field season while out on boat surveys.

    LEARN MORE
  6. NARWC logo

    Right Whale Consortium

    The North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium was co-founded in 1986 by the New England Aquarium and partners from the University of Rhode Island, the Center for Coastal Studies, Marineland of Florida, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

    LEARN MORE

How You Can Help

Here are a few ways to advocate for North Atlantic right whales.

  • Educate friends and family on the dangers that both fixed-gear fisheries and vessel speed present for North Atlantic right whale entanglement and strikes, respectively.
      
  • Support fishermen and women that are voluntarily using safer gear or methods for right whales, such as ropeless technology or diving/catching by hand. Because it can be challenging to track where your seafood comes from, the best option is to purchase directly from these fishers. On the Cape, get your lobster from Salty Lou’s.
      
  • Ask questions at your favorite retailers and restaurants about how their seafood is caught and whether there are measures in place to reduce risk of entanglement. Also ask if their products are shipped by vessel to them.
      
  • Write to your state and federal decision-makers to ask for stronger protections for right whales. This can include accelerating the transition to safer fishing and boating regulations, such as ropeless gear and broader vessel speed measures to protect North Atlantic right whales year-round. Vote with the ocean in mind!
      
  • Report right whales! The Right Whale Catalog relies on contributions of photographs from as many people and groups as possible. Submit your photos—every sighting counts! North Atlantic right whales can measure over 50 feet in length and have a few physical attributes that help to easily identify the species:
    • – Callosities: Right whales have large patches of raised tissue on their heads, called callosities (Kah-laus’-eh-tees). Some people confuse the callosities with barnacles because they appear to be white.
    • – V-shaped Blow: Like all mysticetes (whales with baleen instead of teeth), right whales have two blowholes. Unlink other mysticetes however, right whale blowholes are angled in such a way that when the whale exhales, the blow forms a V-Shape.
    • – Distinctive Tail: A right whale’s tail (or flukes) is all black, has a deep notch in the middle and a smooth , trailing edge. They frequently lift their flukes out of the water when diving.
We as humans have put these whales in the predicament they are in, and we have the ability to help them out of it.”
- Heather Pettis, research scientist, New England Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life
whale breach