Overview

The North Atlantic right whale is a baleen whale that has gained international attention because of the small number of individuals known to be in existence.
The species is endangered, with an estimated population of less than 400.

• In 1935 the North Atlantic right whale was declared internationally a protected marine mammal.

• In 2003 the Species at Risk Act was proclaimed in Canada, and in 2005 the North Atlantic right whale was added to the designated species at risk list.

• The North Atlantic right whale is still hovering on the brink of extinction.

On the western side of the Atlantic, the known habitat of the North Atlantic right whale ranges from the coast of Florida to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In Canadian waters, there are three areas where right whales are known to aggregate; Grand Manan Basin in the lower Bay of Fundy, Roseway Basin south of Nova Scotia, and waters south of the Gaspé Peninsula in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Right whales occur in other oceans, but the species do not intermingle.


Left side of the head of a right whale swimming
at the surface.
The North Atlantic right whale feeds on small marine organisms called zooplankton which it filters from seawater through its baleen. Most right whale habitat areas are located in relation to the existence of its food. The North Atlantic right whale may feed on the surface or at depth, returning to the surface to breathe. When on the surface the profile is low and it is not easily seen.

Right whales are distinguishable from other baleen whales by their large black flukes, the distinctive V-shaped blow and the lack of a dorsal fin. Individually, they are identified by the whitish callosity patterns on the head (rostrum). Right whales are not easily seen, and may appear quite suddenly when coming to the surface to breathe.


Aerial view of a mother (bottom) and calf (top)
pair in the southeast United States.
The North Atlantic right whale is at risk from vessel strike, both blunt trauma and propeller lacerations; entanglement with fishing gear which it is not always able to shed; and toxins and pollutants in the ocean; all of which are the result of human actions or interactions.

Protection of the North Atlantic right whale has been legislated in both Canada and the United States. Stewardship measures and monitoring programs are aiding in the protection and understanding of the right whale, but without education of, and support from mariners and others who use the waters in which the right whale lives, mates, and nurtures its young, the road back to recovery will be long and difficult.

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