Eubalaena – Right whales

The genus of the largest whales, other than Family Balaenopteridae

Representing a group of large baleen whales with a storied history and significant conservation concerns. These marine mammals are closely related to the bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus), sharing a family lineage characterized by several distinctive features and behaviors. Right whales are known for their dark gray or black skin, earning them the nickname “black whales” in some regions. This somber coloring is juxtaposed with the strikingly white rough patches of skin on their heads, known as callosities. These patches are unique to each individual whale, much like fingerprints in humans, and play a crucial role in their identification.

Callosities become white due to the presence of whale lice (cyamids), a parasitic crustacean living on the rough skin patches of these marine giants. Far from being merely a cosmetic feature, these callosities and their parasitic inhabitants are an integral part of the right whale’s ecology, offering a niche for small ecosystems that thrive on the whale’s body.

Eubalaena species are migratory, engaging in long-distance movements between feeding and breeding grounds. These migrations are driven by the need to access rich feeding areas in colder waters and to find warmer waters for birthing and nursing their calves. Such migrations are a testament to their complex life history strategies, developed over millennia to optimize survival and reproductive success in the vast and variable ocean environment.

Despite the cessation of commercial whaling, which once pushed right whales to the brink of extinction, modern threats continue to imperil their populations. Ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear are significant human-induced risks that right whales face today. These gentle giants, which often feed near the surface, are particularly vulnerable to collisions with vessels, leading to serious injuries or death. Furthermore, the increasing prevalence of plastic pollution in the oceans poses a dire threat, with whales ingesting plastic debris that can lead to fatal blockages or internal injuries.