Right whales like the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) are among the rarest of all marine mammal species. These baleen whales have two separate populations – western and eastern. Commercial whaling decimated the species in the early 1900s. Today, only around 400 North Atlantic right whales remain.
© Brian Skerry / National Geographic Stock
North Atlantic right whales are about 50 feet long and weigh about 70 tons (14,000 lbs.). They have a stocky, black body, no dorsal fin and bumpy patches of rough skin, called callosities, on their head.
North Atlantic right whales eat zooplankton and krill. They take large gulps of water and then filter out their tiny prey using baleen plates. Each side of a right whale’s mouth has about 225 baleen plates, which can be up to 8 feet long. During feeding season, usually from spring to fall, right whales may eat more than 2,600 pounds of zooplankton per day.
Historically, there were two populations of North Atlantic right whales – western and eastern. The western North Atlantic right whale population contains roughly 400 individuals. Recent sightings data suggest that the population may be increasing slightly, but is still critically endangered. The eastern population is already nearly, if not completely, extinct.
Habitat & Range
Did You Know?
Right whales got their name because whalers thought they were the "right" ones to hunt, as they float when dead and often swim within sight of the shore.
North Atlantic right whales in their western range are found from Nova Scotia to the southeastern United States and migrate along the length of the east coast of the United States. The eastern North Atlantic right whale population was once found in European waters from the coast of northern Europe to the northwest coast of Africa.
Right whales are slow swimmers, averaging just six miles per hour. They are known to make brief shallow dives in succession before submerging themselves underwater for up to 20 minutes at a time. They usually travel solo or in small groups.
Did You Know?
The right whale's scientific name, Eubalaena glacialis, means "good, or true, whale of the ice."
Right whales are also known to emit low frequency sounds that may be a form of communication. When they feed, the water skimming across their baleen plates creates a clicking "baleen rattle."
Females usually give birth to their first calf at 10 years, and give birth every 3-5 years thereafter. Right whale calves are 13-15 feet long at birth.
Mating Season: Winter
Gestation: 1 year
Litter size: 1 calf