North Atlantic right whale

Believed to be only seen by scientists for 50 hours in the last 50 years

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A remarkable marine mammal that inhabits the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. These majestic whales possess several distinctive physical characteristics that set them apart from other cetaceans and contribute to their unique ecological niche.

One of the most notable features of North Atlantic right whales is their lack of a dorsal fin, a distinguishing trait that distinguishes them from many other whale species. Instead of a prominent dorsal fin on their backs, these whales have a smooth, streamlined profile that allows them to navigate efficiently through the water. Additionally, North Atlantic right whales exhibit a dark grey to black coloration, accented by striking white patches on their head and belly, adding to their distinctive appearance.

Another characteristic that sets North Atlantic right whales apart is their paddle-like pectoral flippers, which play a crucial role in steering and maneuvering as they navigate their oceanic habitats. These specialized flippers, combined with their long, arching mouths that extend above the eye, enable North Atlantic right whales to efficiently filter feed on plankton and other small marine organisms, which form the basis of their diet.

Despite their remarkable adaptations and ecological significance, North Atlantic right whales face numerous threats to their survival, placing them among the most endangered whales in the world. Historically, these whales were targeted by whalers for their high blubber content, which yielded valuable whale oil. The combination of their proximity to coastal areas and the profitability of their blubber made them prime targets for exploitation, leading to a devastating decline in their population.

Today, North Atlantic right whales are listed as Critically Endangered, with their population facing continued threats from human activities and environmental factors. One of the most pressing concerns is the risk of ship strikes, as these whales often inhabit busy shipping lanes where collisions with vessels can result in serious injury or death.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Atlantic Ocean
2020
Baltic Sea
2020
Bermuda
2020
Breeding
Canada
2020
Non-Breeding
Faroe Islands
2020
Presence Uncertain
France
2020
Presence Uncertain
Greenland
2020
Iceland
2020
Ireland
2020
Presence Uncertain
Morocco
2020
Presence Uncertain
Norway
2020
Portugal
2020
Possibly Extant (seasonality: Madeira
Saint Pierre
2020
Spain
2020
Possibly Extant
United Kingdom
2020
Possibly Extant
United States
2020
Breeding: Florida, Georgia
United States
2020
Passage

Recent updates

February 2024: Federal fisheries officials have determined that the rope found on a dead right whale that washed ashore on Martha’s Vineyard last month is from Maine. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found purple markings on the gear recovered from the whale, consistent with those used by Maine lobstermen and pot and trap fishermen. This is the first confirmed right whale entanglement with known Maine gear since 2004.

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd / Group

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No