Toggle Nav

North Atlantic Right Whale

Overview

  • Status
    Endangered
  • Population
    300-350 individuals
  • Scientific Name
    Eubalaena glacialis
  • Weight
    up to 70 tons
  • Length
    45–55 feet
  • Habitats
    Oceans

The North Atlantic right whale can easily be identified by the white calluses on its head, which are very noticeable against the whale’s dark gray body. It has a broad back without a dorsal fin and a long arching mouth that begins above the eye. A baleen whale, it feeds by swimming through a swarm of plankton with its mouth open and the head slightly above the surface. Right whales are found more often in coastal waters, especially during the breeding season.

Why They Matter

  • The North-Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered of all large whales, with a long history of human exploitation and no signs of recovery despite protection from whaling since the 1930s. It is now mostly found along the Atlantic coast of North America, where it is threatened by entanglement in fishing gear and ship collisions. Some scientists believe these whales have gone extinct in the eastern North Atlantic and now survive only along the east coast of the U.S. and Canada.

Threats

  • Population 300-350 individuals
  • Extinction Risk Endangered
    1. EX
      Extinct

      No reasonable doubt that the last individual has died

    2. EW
      Extinct in the Wild

      Known only to survive in cultivation, in captivity or as a naturalised population

    3. CR
      Critically Endangered

      Facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the Wild

    4. EN
      Endangered

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    5. VU
      Vulnerable

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    6. NT
      Near Threatened

      Likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future

    7. LC
      Least Concern

      Does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, or Near Threatened

Car ferry, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada

Car ferry, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada.

North Atlantic populations have been decimated by historical over-exploitation by the whaling industry. The species gets its names from early whalers, who considered them to be the "right" whales to hunt. Today, the species is threatened by ship collisions, entanglement in fishing nets, and separation from calving areas because of shipping traffic. With such a small, slow-growing population, any threatening factor may have a significant impact.

Ocean noise

A 2012 scientific study suggests that underwater noise created by passing ships could be hindering the ability of whales to communicate. Scientists measured a significant amount of chronic noise (“acoustic smog”) in a critical North Atlantic right whale feeding area. The results indicate that whales may be having a hard time hearing each other most of the time in that area. This can affect their ability to find food and mates, navigate, avoid predators and take care of their young.

Even though they are large animals, whales can become accidentally caught in fishing nets. Such entanglement can cause serious injury or even death. For example, fishing gear may wrap around a whale’s mouth and prevent them from feeding or they can drown in a net from not being able to surface for air.

Warming oceans can affect the food sources whales need to survive. Large patches of tiny plants and animals that they feed on will likely move or change in abundance as climate change alters seawater temperature, winds and ocean currents. The shift in food availability due to climate fluctuations has already hurt the reproductive rates of the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

What WWF Is Doing

Marine student whale watching on Canada’s Bay of Fundy

Marine student whale watching on Canada’s Bay of Fundy.

Improving Whale Protection

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is the body charged with regulating whaling and addressing the vast number of other threats (shipping, climate change, bycatch) to whales, dolphins and porpoises in our oceans. WWF works to make the IWC more effective in reducing threats to whales.

Safer Shipping Lanes

Fishing boats, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada

WWF has reached significant milestones regarding the protection of the North Atlantic right whale. This includes a shift of the shipping lanes in Canada's Bay of Fundy in 2003, which reduces the risk of ship strikes of right whales in Canadian waters by up to 80%. However, collisions in U.S. and other Canadian waters remain a major conservation problem for the species.

Experts

Related Species

xHelp Improve this Site

Just 20 minutes of your time can help improve this site. By participating in a quick activity, you can help us make worldwildlife.org even better.

Start SurveyClose this box