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New England Seabirds

 Wilson's Storm-petrel  Dave Jones
Other Sea Life

Baleen Whales

Humpback Whale
Minke Whale
Sei Whale
Fin Whale
Blue Whale
Right Whale


Baleen Whales


North Atlantic Right Whale

Eubaleena glacialis

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Right Whale breeching Leonard Medlock

North Atlantic Right Whale breeching.  Note the square shape of the flippers.  Leonard Medlock from the NH coast.

Right Whale to Kill
The whalers considered the northern right whales both Atlantic and Pacific species to be "the right whale to kill". The Right Whale moves slowly, is rich in oil and baleen, and tends to float after being killed. And kill it they did. Before the advent of modern technology, whalers were restricted to the smaller Baleen Whales which included the Right Whale. Today all populations of Right Whales remain endangered. The Atlantic population is down to 350 individuals and not growing. The North Atlantic Right Whale is on the road to extinction.

Three Species of Right Whales
There are three species of Right Whales which are not known to meet in their ocean travels.
     Eubalaena glacialis - North Atlantic Right Whale 350 individuals
     Eubalaena australia - Southern Hemisphere growing at 7-8% per year
     Eubalaena japonica - North Pacific

Why are they not recovering?
The reasons the population the North Atlantic Right Whale population is not recovering from the whaling years while other species have shown improvement include:

Low birth rate. Females only reproduce every 3-5 years and like all whales have only 1 calf at a time. Some years only 1 baby is produced by the entire population. Last year 30 were born.

Ship strikes like the one that killed the whale below. This carcass was found outside the Newburyport Harbor. Right Whales are slow swimmers and not able to get out of the way of fast moving boats or ships.

Declining food resources.

Right Whale dead Tom Young Newburyport Harbor

Dead Right Whale photographed by Tom Young right outside of Newbury Port Harbor. Presumed killed by a ship strike. Wilson’s Storm-petrels were feeding on the carcas as the Newburyport Whale Watch approached.

When you only have 450 individuals of a species left, every loss is tragic. If you are lucky enough to see a Right Whale at sea remember this is an animal your grandchildren may not ever see alive.

The Right Whale is a large baleen whale that does not have a dorsal fin or throat groves. The flippers are square- shaped and not nearly as long as the Humpback Whale. The flippers will only rarely be seen at sea which makes the photograph of the breeching Right Whale above so unusual. The head makes up about 1/3 of the body of the whale

Right Whale Lauren Kraus

The dorsal side is black and there is a varying amount of white on the underside.

This photograph by Laure Kraus shows the large head, the lack of a dorsal fin, a side view of the blow, and one of the flukes.(The flukes are part of the tail.  That is not a dorsal fin.)

Right Whale head shot Lauren Kraus

Like all the baleen whales the Right Whale has two blow holes.

The mouth has a huge arch clearly visible in this Laure Kraus photograph. The baleen plates are long and this made the whale more valuable to early whalers because there were many uses for the baleen which today have been replaced by plastic.

Callosities are patches of rough skin usually on the top of the head and under the jaw. They becomes covered with lice making them appear white.

The pattern of callosities can be used to identify individual whales and there is a data base North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium Resource Database .Your pictures can help track the Right Whales.

Right Whale double blow  Leonard Medlock

When viewed from either the front or the back, the blow appears as two columns as shown in this Leonard Medlock photograph.

Right whale flippers Lauren Kraus

Lauren Krause captured this photograph of one of the square flippers.  Lauren seems to always get good pictures of important diagnostic features.

Right Whale fluking Leonard medlock


Right whale may raise their flukes when beginning a deep dive as is the case with this whale photographed by Leonard Medlock.

Right Whale Tail flukes Leonard Medlock

Right whale flukes are triangular and large with a smooth trailing edge.  Compare with those of the Humpback Whale.  Leonard Medlock

The North Atlantic Right Whale breeds off the Atlantic coasts of northern Florida and Georgia in the Northern Hemisphere winter. In spring a few whales congregate in Cape Cod Bay where they can sometimes be seen from Race Point.

In mid-summer and into the fall, large numbers migrate north where some can be seen in the Bay of Fundy. The rest of the population may be feeding around Greenland and Iceland.

Females have a single calf every three to five years. Calves are born off the coasts of Florida and Georgia during the winter months. Sexual behavior may occur all year long, but serious copulation occurs during the winter.

In 2010 a group of birders observed and photographed mating Right Whales off the coast of NH in mid September. Usually a group of males surround a single female.

The calves are born after 12 month gestation period and stay with their mother for a year.

It is always amazing that large animals like the baleen whales eat the smallest of animals zooplankton which they must find in large concentrated quantities. They feed by swimming across the water with their mouth partly open. They filter water through the baleen plates capturing the small animals mostly copepods and sometimes krill.

Right Whales do not have throat pleats to enlarge the mouth area when feeding.

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Folkens, Peter (2002) Guide to Marine Mammals of the World Alfred A. Knopf New York

Kinze, Carl Charistian (2001) Marine Mammals of the North Atlantic Princeton University Press Princeton NJ