Canadian Marine Life Encyclopedia
North Atlantic right whale
Also known as
Warm temperate to subpolar latitudes of the north Atlantic Ocean
Coastal to open ocean
Order Cetacea (whales, dolphins and porpoises), Family Balaenidae (right whales)
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North Atlantic right whales are baleen whales, meaning they filter their food through bristles made of keratin in their mouths. They’re seasonal feeders, spending their summers feeding on copepods in the northern part of their range. When winter arrives, they travel between Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence down the eastern United States to Florida, using coastal and nearshore waters as their primary migration and seasonal feeding routes. Once abundant throughout the Atlantic Ocean, they are now endangered.
North Atlantic right whales were devastated by whaling in the 19th century. It’s likely that they were named “right whale” because they were the “right” ones to hunt – slow-moving, surface-dwelling animals that migrate close to the coast and float when they are killed. In the 1990s, North Atlantic right whales hit a population low of 270 animals. Since then, they’ve started making a fragile recovery but their numbers have started to drop again. 2017 was a crisis year for right whales with 17 confirmed mortalities – 12 in Canadian waters – and no new calves in the 2017/2018 winter birthing season. There are now approximately 400 North Atlantic right whales remaining.