Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis)
- to a maximum length of 17 metres and 100 tonnes.
- extremely stout body forms – their girth is as much as 60% of their length
- mostly black with irregular white patches on the sides of their belly
- no dorsal fin
- distinct V-shaped blow, upwards of 5 metres in height
- broad and symmetrical, with a distinct notch
- shows tail fluke upon diving
- usually inconspicuous, although fluking, pectoral fin slapping and even breaching have been known to occur.
Group size / social behaviour
- typically solitary or in small groups
- large pectoral flippers and broad tail flukes, but no dorsal fin
- head is often covered in white callosities – small, irregular knobs of calloused skin
- callosities are usually covered in whale lice
Can be confused with
- humpback whales
There is scientific debate as to the number of species within the genus Eubalaena. Two species, Eubalaena australis (the Southern right whale) and Eubalaena glacialis (the North Atalantic right whale), are widely recognized. Recent molecular evidence points to a third species, Eubalaena japonica – the North Pacific right whale.
Right whales were named by whalers because they were the ‘right’ whale to hunt. They are very slow moving, easy to approach, live close to shore, provide vast quantities of oil, meat and bone, and their carcasses float. Due to intense whaling during the 17th and 18th centuries, the population of North Pacific right whales is now thought to number less than 100, making this species the most endangered whale in the world. Right whales have not been seen in B.C. waters in over 60 years.
Right whales generally inhabit temperate to sub-polar inshore waters. Calving grounds are in very shallow regions of these waters. Newborns are 4.5 to 6 metres in length and weigh about 1 tonne. In 2002, a female with a young calf was observed in the Bering Sea. This is the first calf seen in the past century.
Right whales spend summers in higher latitude waters feeding, and females go to warmer sub-tropical waters for winter calving. Little is known about the current distribution of north Pacific right whales because of their extremely low population size.
Right whales are more closely related to bowhead and grey whales than to the “rorqual” whales (such as humpback whales and blue whales).
Right whales feed mainly on copepods – plankton about the size of a grain of rice. However, they will also feed on krill (small, shrimp-like plankton) and the larval stage of many other species of crustacean. Right whales are “skimmers” – feeding by swimming forward with their mouth wide open. They frequently skim the surface for food, but also feed at depth and have even been seen with mud on their heads after a long dive, indicating that they were feeding on the bottom.
STATUS IN CANADA
The North Pacific right whale is designated as Endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).
COSEWIC’s assessment of the North Pacific population of right whales is as follows:
Although there have not been sightings of this species in the last 50 years in Canadian waters, there have been sightings both south and north of British Columbia waters. Therefore, it is not appropriate to classify the species as extirpated. The total population in the eastern North Pacific likely numbers a few tens of animals.