The Right Whale

Right whales are three species of large baleen whales of the genus Eubalaena: the North Atlantic right whale (E. glacialis), the North Pacific right whale (E. japonica) and the southern right whale(E. australis). They are classified in the family Balaenidae with the bowhead whale. Right whales have rotund bodies with arching rostrums, V-shaped blowholes and dark gray or black skin. The most distinguishing feature of a right whale is the rough patches of skin on its head which appear white due to parasitism by whale lice. Right whales can grow up to 18 m (59 ft) long and weigh up to 100 short tons (91 t; 89 long tons), significantly larger than humpbacks or grays, but smaller than blues. Although the blue whale is the largest animal on the planet, the testes of the right whale are actually ten times the size of those of the blue whale. Weighing up to 525 kg (1157 lbs), they are by far the largest of any animal on Earth.

All three species are migratory, moving to certain areas to feed or give birth. The warm equatorial waters form a barrier that prevents mixing between the northern and southern groups. Right whales tend to avoid open waters and stay close to peninsulas and bays and on continental shelves, as these areas offer greater shelter and an abundance of their preferred foods. Right whales feed mainly on zooplankton but will also consume krill and pteropods. They may forage the surface, underwater or even on the ocean bottom. During courtship, males gather into large groups to compete for a single female. Sperm competition appears to be important in mating. Gestation tends to last a year and calves are born at 1 short ton (0.91 t; 0.89 long ton) in weight and 4–6 m (13–20 ft) in length. Weaning occurs after eight months.

Because of their docile nature, their slow surface-skimming feeding behaviors, their tendencies to stay close to the coast, and their high blubber content (which makes them float when they are killed, and which produced high yields of whale oil), right whales were a preferred target for whalers, who reportedly considered them the "right" whales to hunt. The North Atlantic and western population of the North Pacific species is currently endangered, but the eastern population of the North Pacific species is critically endangered – with the population in the North Atlantic Oceannumbering in the hundreds, but in the eastern North Pacific numbering less than 50, and at risk of extinction. Both species are protected in the United States by the Endangered Species Act. The southern right whale is more abundant, numbering in the thousands. In addition to whaling, right whales are threatened by entanglements in fishing nets and collisions with ships.