North Atlantic right whale


North Atlantic Right Whale: Eubalaena glacialis

Taxonomic Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata                                                           
Class: Mammalia
Order: Cetacea
Family: Balaenidae
Genus/Species: Eubalaena glacialis
Common Name: North Atlantic right whale

Listing Status

Federal Status: Endangered
FL Status: Federally-designated Endangered
FNAI Ranks: Not ranked
IUCN Status: EN (Endangered)

Physical Description

The North Atlantic right whale is a dark gray or black whale that can reach a length of 55 feet (16.8 meters) and a weight of 110,000 pounds (49,895 kilograms).  Calves (offspring) can reach a length of 15 feet (4.6 meters) and a weight up to 2,000 pounds (907.2 kilograms).  The right whale lacks a dorsal (back) fin, leaving a large flat back. The North Atlantic right whale has callosities (bumps) on its head (appears white due to the white lice that convene on it), two rows of 225 baleen (filter) plates on the top jaw, and a broad rigged tail with smooth edges (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, n.d.).

Life History

The right whale is a filter feeder and primarily feeds on calanoid copepods – a type of zooplankton (NMFS 2005).  It also feeds on small crustaceans and the larva of barnacles (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, n.d.). 

North Atlantic right whales are polygamous breeders (a female mates with more than one male), and permanent bonds are not formed between breeding pairs.  Females give birth to approximately one calf every three years between the months of December and March off the Atlantic Coast of Florida and Georgia (NMFS 2005).  Females do not feed while in the breeding areas off the Georgia and Florida Atlantic coasts.  The gestation (pregnancy) period is 12 months, with the calves weaned by the end of their first year (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, n.d.). 

Habitat and Distribution


Historically, right whales were hunted to near extinction.  They were given the name “right whale” by fishermen because they were the easiest whales to catch because they swim slowly, float when dead, and they contain large amount of oil that could be utilized.  In 1949, the International Whaling Commission External Website made it illegal for right whales to be hunted commercially. Today, the main threat to their population is collisions with large ships and entanglement in fishing gear (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, n.d.).  Other threats include habitat degradation from contaminants.

Conservation and Management

The North Atlantic right whale is protected as an Endangered species by the Federal Endangered Species Act and as a Federally-designated Endangered species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule External Website.  North Atlantic right whales are also Federally protected as a Depleted species by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Federal Recovery Plan External Website

Other Informative Links

Animal Diversity Web External Website
International Union for Conservation of Nature External Website
National Geographic External Website
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Species Profile External Website
New England Aquarium External Website
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology External Website
World Wildlife Fund External Website



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National Marine Fisheries Service. 2010. North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis). National Marine Fisheries Service, Silver Spring, MD.

National Marine Fisheries Service. 2005. Recovery Plan for the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis). National Marine Fisheries Service, Silver Spring, MD.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. (n.d.). North Atlantic Right Whale. Retrieved May 18, 2011, from NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service: External Website

Image Credit FWC

FWC Facts:
The most common human causes of serious injury and mortality for right whales are vessel collisions and entanglements in fishing gear.

Learn More at AskFWC