North Atlantic right whales are one of the most endangered large whale species in the world.
Hundreds of years of commercial whaling decimated the species by the early 1900s. The species got its name as the “right” whale to hunt: these animals swim slowly close to shore and are so blubber-rich they float when dead. They have a stocky, black body, no dorsal fin and bumpy patches of rough skin, called callosities, on their heads.
These massive marine mammals migrate each year between their northern feeding grounds in coastal Atlantic Canada and New England to their calving grounds in the warm waters off South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, and back. It is a journey fraught with danger as the whales navigate waters where they encounter vessel traffic, millions of fishing ropes and other hazards associated with human activity.
Defenders is building support in Congress to enact the SAVE Right Whales Act, to provide much-needed funding for develop technologies to protect the species from fishing entanglements and vessel strikes. We are also fighting in court to protect right whales from deadly entanglements.
In January 2018, Defenders and our conservation allies filed suit against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for violating the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act by failing to protect North Atlantic right whales from entanglements in the American lobster fishery.
We advocate for right whales as a conservation member of the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team, a stakeholder group under the Marine Mammal Protection Act that advises NMFS on how to implement fishery management measures to minimize or avoid the risk of deadly entanglements. We are also litigating to stop seismic blasting in the Atlantic and working to promote responsible wildlife- and whale-friendly offshore wind development.
North Atlantic right whales are threatened by entanglement, ship strikes and offshore oil and gas exploration and development.
Endangered Species Act
IUCN Red List
What You Can Do
Tell your members of Congress to support the SAVE Right Whales Act.
about 50 feet long and weigh about 70 tons (140,000 pounds), with females larger than males
Under ideal circumstances, 50 -100 years; however, most adult whales are killed by human actions by the time they are 30-40 years old.
North Atlantic right whales are found from Atlantic Canada to the southeastern United States and migrate along the length of the east coasts of the United States and Canada.
Only about 400 North Atlantic right whales remain and of those, only 85 are reproductively active females.
Right whales are slow swimmers, averaging just six miles per hour. They are known to make brief shallow dives in succession before submerging themselves underwater for up to 20 minutes at a time. They usually travel solo or in small groups.
Females usually give birth to their first calf at 10 years. Although usually they give birth every 3-5 years thereafter, their calving intervals are now approximately 10 years because of the energy demands of dragging entangled fishing gear around. Right whale calves are 13-15 feet long at birth.
Mating season: winter
Gestation: 1 year
Litter size: 1 calf
North Atlantic right whales eat zooplankton and krill larvae. They take large gulps of water and then filter out their tiny prey using baleen plates.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced today that it is changing the status of the North Atlantic right whale from “endangered” to “critically endangered” on its Red List of Threatened Species, recognizing that the species faces an extremely high risk of extinction. The IUCN Red List is the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of species.