North Atlantic Right Whale

North Atlantic Right Whale: Eubalaena glacialis

IUCN status: Endangered

Status and distribution summary:

Formerly considered as a single species with the Southern and North Pacific Right Whales, but all three are recognised as separate species. Probably less than 400 North Atlantic Right Whales survive today, and are highly threatened. Almost all are found along the eastern seaboard of North America, with just a handful of recent records from the Eastern Atlantic including the Azores, Canary Islands, north west Spain, west of Ireland and off Iceland. This suggests a small relic of the formerly abundant eastern population survives, which must be regarded as critically endangered or threatened with extinction.

Exploitation:

The first species of whale known to have been commercially exploited as far back as the 11thC in the Bay of Biscay. The original population size is unknown but by the 16thC it was being exploited by European whalers across much of its range. Whaling drove the species to the edge of extinction.

Other threats:

The western population is highly vulnerable to collisions with shipping and to be tangled in fishing gear, which was considered sufficient to drive a continued decline in population. Based on scarring from fishing gear it is estimated that 72% of the population has suffered entanglement and 10-30% are entangled each year. Chemical and biotoxins are suggested as causes of low productivity, but  this has improved in recent years.

Where it is seen:

In recent times only recorded off the Gallician coast in 1977, though this record is not validated.

Frequency of sightings:

1 unvalidated record 1977. There is potential for this species to be seen again in Biscay and the Celtic Sea.

Recognition:

A moderately large whale (up to 17 metres in length). Bulky.

In regular surfacing they usually show the following features:

  • Appears blackish
  • Lacks a dorsal fin
  • Blow is distinct, bushy with a V pattern

Behaviour:

Slow swimming

Can be quite playful; breaches regularly, spy hops, and tail sails

Confusion species:

  • Fin Whale; is larger, with proportionally smaller dorsal fin set further back, simultaneous blow and dorsal fin are unusual.
  • Minke Whale; much smaller, not normally visible blow and arches its back and tail stock on diving.