© Barrett&MacKay / WWF-Canada North Atlantic right whale off Grand Manan Island, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada.

NORTH ATLANTIC RIGHT WHALE

One of the most endangered large whale species on the planet, North Atlantic right whales are in need of protection.

About North Atlantic Right Whales

North Atlantic right whales are easily recognized by the fact that they have no dorsal fin, and dark colours on their back (some individuals may have white patches on the throat or belly). They also have rough white patches of skin called callosities on their head, chin, and sometimes on the edge of their lower lips. Each whale’s callosity pattern is distinctive, enabling scientists to recognize individual whales.

North Atlantic right whales are one of the most endangered large whale species on the planet. Once, thousands of right whales could be found in the Atlantic Ocean, but by the late 1880s they had been hunted to near extinction. Today, only about 400 North Atlantic right whales remain.

North Atlantic Right Whale Facts

North Atlantic right whale with calf.

North Atlantic Right Whale

Endangered

Scientific Name:

Eubalaena glacialis

Status:

Endangered

Endangered A wildlife species facing imminent extirpation or extinction.

Adult Weight:

30 to 70 tonnes

Length:

An average of 10–15 metres long, though they can reach up to 17 metres

Location:

Primarily found in coastal or continental shelf waters, although they have been known to move over deep waters. They migrate between their feeding grounds in the northern Atlantic Ocean and their calving grounds in southern U.S. waters.

Population:

about 400

Did You Know?

Forty per cent of a right whale's body weight is blubber.

Why are North Atlantic Right Whales Important?

Whales help regulate and maintain ocean food chains. In fact, whale poop helps stimulate the growth of phytoplankton which pull carbon from the atmosphere to provide a cleaner and healthier breathing environment for all animals.

© Barrett MacKay / WWF-Canada North Atlantic right whale, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada.

Threats

By the 1890s, North Atlantic right whales were hunted to the brink of extinction by commercial whalers. Today, the leading causes of mortality are entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes. Over 80 per cent of North Atlantic right whales have been entangled at least once in their lifetime.

During the summer, North Atlantic right whales have been increasingly found feeding on zooplankton and krill around the Bay of Fundy, off Nova Scotia and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This area experiences a significant amount of shipping traffic and commercial fishing.

A summer of loss

In the summer of 2017, about three per cent of the population was found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Between June 6th and September 15th, 2017, 12 dead right whales were reported in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In that period, five also died in U.S. waters. Necropsies revealed vessel collision and entanglement were to blame for this unprecedented event.

In 2019, another eight dead right whales were reported in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, despite management measures implemented to mitigate fishing and shipping threats.

What WWF-Canada is Doing

WWF is supporting research that helps us better understand North Atlantic right whale distribution in the Gulf of St-Lawrence. We are working with governments and industry to improve and develop new management measures to better protect the species in the Gulf of St-Lawrence. With the Marine Mammal Observer Network, we are developing tools to increase mariner’s participation in wildlife conservation.

© Damian Lidgard / WWF-Canada Spotting a North Atlantic right whale in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, Canada.

What You Can Do

North Atlantic right whales are one of the most endangered large whale species on the planet. With your gift, you can help protect some of the world’s most vulnerable species and the habitats they call home.

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