Animal of the Month
April 2020
Name: North Atlantic right whale

Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Balaenidae
Genus: Eubalaena
Species: E. glacialis

Size: Upto 52 feet long
Weight: Upto 70 tons

Characteristics: Long body, elongated head with baleen in mouth, two large fins and long, wide tail.
Color(s): Black or grey, with spots of white.
Behavior: Migratory.
Preferred Habitat: Coastal waters.
Range: The Atlantic Ocean, especially the north and mid Atlantic, Southeast Atlantic, and the waters off New England.
Plankton and small fish.
Lifespan: Upto 70 years.

Status: Endangered

Whales are arguably one of the most majestic creatures in the sea. You would think that it would be easy to find and study an animal as large as a whale. However, some whale species are not as well known as famous species like humpback whales or orcas. Some species, like the North Atlantic right whale, are an utter mystery! North Atlantic right whales are found in the northern waters of the Atlantic, especially coastal waters off New England.

North Atlantic right whales are a part of the genus Eubalaena, which includes species like the Southern right whale (E. australis) and the North Pacific right whale (E. japonica). All of these whales were once thought to be a single species. They were also thought to be the same species as the bowhead whale (Balaena mystcetus). However, scientific studies in 2001 and 2002 provided evidence that they were all separate species, and in 2007 the right whales were moved into their own genus separate from the bowhead whale. Sometimes it takes scientists a while to figure out which animal goes where!

North Atlantic right whales are known to migrate throughout their vast range. They travel to the southern end of their range during winter months to feed as well as to give birth to calves. Right Whales eat plankton like copepods, as well as small fish. They suck these creatures into their mouths and filter them out of the water with the baleen, or bristles, in their mouths.

North Atlantic right whales are social creatures and have been even sighted interacting with members of other species like humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins! However, there is still a lot about their behavior that we do not know. Sometimes scientists find them in groups, other times they are found alone. More research is being done to study their feeding and social habits.

Female North Atlantic right whales begin to breed around seven-to-nine years old. Groups of up to twenty males will gather and compete for the right to mate with a single female. Females carry their calves for a year before giving birth. No one knows exactly where they give birth; births are often recorded off the coast of Florida and Georgia in January and February. A newborn can be up to fifteen feet long and weight three thousand pounds! After giving birth, a female will not breed again three-to-five years.

North Atlantic right whales are badly endangered. Once plentiful, they could be found in European as well as North American waters. Humans have hunted them as early as the 1100s. They were targeted because they are relatively slow swimmers, they stick close to shore, and upon dying their bodies usually float. By the 1700s the whaling industry had devastated the entire population of North Atlantic right whales. In 1937 it became illegal to hunt right whales of any species, though illegal killings continued to take place for decades. Today, the largest threat to these whales is boat strikes. Other threats include net entanglement, noise pollution and rising ocean temperatures. The North Atlantic right whale is under so many pressures that there are estimated to be around four or five hundred left in the wild. If these trends continue, they could be extinct in twenty years.

Fortunately, many dedicated people are working hard to protect this wonderful species. The World Wildlife Fund has successfully campaigned to alter Canadian shipping routes, which cut whale collisions in Canadian waters by eighty percent! The North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium, a coalition of scientists and activists, works to distribute awareness and effect change for the species. The Conservation Law Foundation is also working to pressure fishing businesses to enact long-term solutions for protecting North Atlantic right whales. The road to recovery for this species will not be easy, but it is far from impossible.

To "do right" by this whale, check out these awesome resources!

North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium-A coalition of scientists and activists pooling their knowledge and resources to protect the species!

Conservation Law Foundation, North Atlantic Right Whale Page-Check out what the CLF is doing to protect whales from human activity!


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