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Species Description

Right Whale

Eubalaena glacialis

Species Image


Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Cetacea
Family: Balaenidae


Color: The body is dark brown to black in color, with white patches in the mid-belly and on the chin. Baleen plates black to dark brown. Adults attain lengths ranging from 12.2 - 17.4 m (40 - 57 ft) and weigh 36.3 - 45.4 metric tons (40 - 50 tons). Other things to look for: This is a baleen whale. All baleen whales lack teeth, and instead have a baleen, a series of overlapping, long, fibrous-edged plate-like strips which hang from the roof of the mouth. The baleen acts like a sieve and captures food as water is expelled by the whale's tongue. Right whales have about 250 pairs of black to dark brown baleen plates which may reach up to 1.8 m (6 ft) in length The head is enormous and makes up one-fourth of the total length of the whale. The mouth is highly arched, curving upward in front of the eyes on the either side of the head. The pectoral fins are short, broad, and rounded.

Life Cycle

Breeding takes place in the late summer and fall, and a whale calf is born 12 months later. Young are born at the southern end of the whales' north-south migration routes, in the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast from the Florida-Georgia state line. The calf is about 4.6 m (15 ft) in length at birth, and nurses for about one year before being weaned. Sexual maturity is reached at an age of 6 years. An adult female gives birth only once every 3 years.

Natural History

The Right Whale feeds on planktonic animals such as copepods, shrimp, and mollusks. It feeds by skimming the surface of the ocean as it swims with its mouth open and its head above water. Once a mouthful of food has been filtered by the baleen, the whale closes its mouth and swallows the food. It often forages near shore in shallow water and sometimes enters large bays. The name "right whale" was given to it by early whalers because this was the "right" or "correct" whale to hunt for several reasons. It swims slowly which made it easier to hunt. It was abundant and not afraid of ships. It did not sink when killed, and it produced large amounts of whale oil. Because this species migrates close to shore and females and calves frequent inshore waters, the Right Whale was an easy target for the whaling industry from the 1100s - 1800s, until its numbers became so low as to make it unprofitable to hunt this species. Maximum life span for this species has been estimated at about 40 years, and collisions with ships are now the main cause of mortality.


This migratory species inhabits most of the oceans of the world, living in both cold and temperate waters but avoiding warm tropical seas near the equator. In U.S. waters, it inhabits both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. These whales move along the south Atlantic coast between early January and late March as they migrate north for the summer, and do not return until the following late summer or early autumn.

Conservation Status

This species is critically imperiled, for it is estimated that only about 300 individuals are alive. The Right Whale has been listed as Endangered at both the state and Federal levels by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. All Right Whales are now protected from hunting by international agreements of all major nations of the world.

Similar Species

The Right Whale lack dorsal fins and ventral throat grooves or pleats. All other baleen whales in our area have conspicuous dorsal fins and distinct throat pleats.