Eubalaena glacialis - (Müller, 1776)
North Atlantic Right Whale
Other English Common Names: Northern Right Whale, Right Whale
Synonym(s): Balaena glacialis Müller, 1776
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Eubalaena glacialis (Müller, 1776) (TSN 180537)
French Common Names: baleine noire de l'Atlantique Nord
Spanish Common Names: Ballena Franca
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.792042
Element Code: AMAGJ02010
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Mammals - Whales and Dolphins
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Mammalia Cetacea Balaenidae Eubalaena
Genus Size: B - Very small genus (2-5 species)
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder (editors). 2005. Mammal species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference. Third edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. Two volumes. 2,142 pp. Available online at: http://vertebrates.si.edu/msw/mswcfapp/msw/index.cfm
Concept Reference Code: B05WIL01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Eubalaena glacialis
Taxonomic Comments: Bowhead whales and right whales often have been included in the same genus (Balaena) (e.g., Rice 1998), but most recent classifications recognize them as distinct genera (Balaena for bowhead whale, Eubalaena for right whales) (e.g., Baker et al. 2003; Mead and Brownell, in Wilson and Reeder 2005). MtDNA data are consistent with recognition of Balaena and Eubalaena as distinct genera (Rosenbaum et al. 2000).

A strong consensus does not exist regarding the taxonomic status of the various populations of right whales. Based on mtDNA data, Rosenbaum et al. (2000) proposed that the North Atlantic, North Pacific, and Southern Hemisphere populations could be recognized as distinct species (E. glacialis, E. japonica, and E. australis, respectively). Baker et al. (2003) argued against this proposal, noting among other things that no other consistent differences have been found among the three populations. The recovery plan for this species and Mead and Brownell (in Wilson and Reeder 1993) regarded the southern right whale (E. australis) as a distinct species, but Rice (1998) and Baker et al. (2003) included australis in Eubalaena (or Balaena) glacialis. Mead and Brownell (in Wilson and Reeder 2005) cited Rosenbaum et al. (2000) in recognizing E. glacialis, E. australis, and E. japonica as distinct species.

Sighting and mtDNA data indicate that western North Atlantic right whales segregate between separate nursery areas but probably represent a single breeding population (Schaeff et al. 1993).
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G1
Global Status Last Reviewed: 04Apr2016
Global Status Last Changed: 15Nov1996
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by inspection
Rounded Global Status: G1 - Critically Imperiled
Reasons: Remnant populations occur in the North Atlantic; extremely low numbers; populations have failed to increase significantly even with protection; threats include collisions with boats, entanglement in fishing gear, disturbance by human activity, and general marine environmental deterioration.
Nation: United States
National Status: N1 (19Feb1997)
Nation: Canada
National Status: N1 (09Sep2011)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
United States Delaware (SXB), Florida (S1), Georgia (S1), Maine (SNR), Maryland (SNA), Massachusetts (S1), New Jersey (S1), New York (SNA), North Carolina (SNA), Rhode Island (SU), Texas (S1)
Canada Labrador (SNR), New Brunswick (S1), Newfoundland Island (SH), Nova Scotia (S1), Prince Edward Island (SH), Quebec (S1)

Other Statuses

U.S. Endangered Species Act (USESA): LE: Listed endangered (02Jun1970)
Comments on USESA: NMFS completed a status review of right whales in the North Pacific and North Atlantic Oceans under the ESA in December 2006 and are listing the endangered northern right whale as two separate, endangered species, North Pacific right whale (E. japonica) and North Atlantic right whale (E. glacialis) (Federal Register, 6 March 2008). Critical habitat was designated on April 8, 2008.
Canadian Species at Risk Act (SARA) Schedule 1/Annexe 1 Status: E (12Jan2005)
Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC): Endangered (01Nov2013)
Comments on COSEWIC: This long-lived, slowly reproducing whale species was driven nearly to extinction by commercial whaling but has been protected from whaling since 1935. The whales found in Canada are part of a single global population of the species, which is endemic to the North Atlantic Ocean. Since 1990, the total population has been increasing at a rate of approximately 2.4% per year. The total population in 2010, including all age classes, was estimated at 468 individuals, of which between 122 and 136 were adult females. The estimated number of mature individuals, after accounting for a male-biased sex ratio among adults, and for a small number of females that are incapable of reproducing, is between 245 and 272. The rate of population growth is lower than would be predicted based on the biology of the species and is limited by ship strikes and entanglements in fishing gear. Although measures have been implemented in both Canada and the United States to lessen ship strikes, they continue to occur and ship traffic is expected to increase significantly within the range of the species in coming decades. Further, adult females appear to be more prone to being struck than males. Limited efforts have also been made to reduce the incidence and severity of entanglements, but these events remain a major cause of injury and mortality.

The Right Whale was considered a single species and designated Endangered in 1980. Status re-examined and confirmed in April 1985 and in April 1990. Split into two species in May 2003 to allow a separate designation of the North Atlantic Right Whale. North Atlantic Right Whale was designated Endangered in May 2003 and November 2013.

IUCN Red List Category: EN - Endangered
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Protection Status (CITES): Appendix I

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: 20,000-2,500,000 square km (about 8000-1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: Remnant populations occur in the North Atlantic (mainly Florida and Gulf of Mexico to Labrador). Very rare in the eastern North Atlantic (fewer than 10 reliable sightings within the past 50 years, but including a female and calf were observed off Portugal in 1995 (Martin and Walker 1997). North Atlantic high-use areas include coastal Florida and Georgia (winter calving); Great South Channel east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts (spring feeding); Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod Bay (winter-spring feeding); Bay of Fundy (summer and fall feeding and nursery area); and Browns and Baccaro banks south of Nova Scotia (Roseway Basin, summer and fall feeding) (Right Whale Recovery Team 1990, Malik et al. 1999). See Right Whale Recovery Team (1990) and IUCN (1991) for further details. The Bay of Fundy is the important nursery area, but at least one other nursery area (as yet unidentified) must exist (Schaeff et al. 1993, Malik et al. 1999).

Number of Occurrences: 1 - 5
Number of Occurrences Comments: Probably fewer than five nursery areas; only three or four populations.

Population Size: 250 - 1000 individuals
Population Size Comments: Total population is estimated at 200-350 in the North Atlantic (NMFS 1987, Right Whale Recovery Team 1990, Mayo and Marx 1990). North Atlantic population produced 8-13 calves per year in the 1980s (Matthews and Moseley 1990).

Number of Occurrences with Good Viability/Integrity: None (zero)
Viability/Integrity Comments: Remaining populations are very small, and nursery areas of eastern North Atlantic population conflict with shipping lanes.

Overall Threat Impact: Very high - high
Overall Threat Impact Comments: Initial large decline due primarily to hunting that occurred through the mid-1930s. Lack of population recovery has been attributed to mortality caused by collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear, degradation of feeding habitat (e.g., through effects of pollution on zooplankton), human disturbance (ships) (Right Whale Recovery Team 1990). Fujiwara and Caswell's (2001) analysis points to mortality of adult females caused by collisions as the primary factor in the decline. In fact, they suggest that reducing the death rate by only two adult females per year would reverse the decline. MtDNA data, in conjunction with behavioral and population data that indicate that the North Atlantic population may be suffering from reduced fertility, fecundity, and juvenile survivorship, support the hypothesis that inbreeding depression is also a cause of the lack of recovery (Schaeff et al. 1997). However, the data analysis and modelling of Fujiwara and Caswell (2001) do not support this hypothesis.

Short-term Trend: Decline of 10-30%

Long-term Trend: Decline of >90%
Long-term Trend Comments: Formerly abundant, but hunted to near-extinction. North Atlantic population thought to have increased somewhat after the cessation of whaling, but apparently began declining once more after about 1990 (Caswell et al. 1999, Fugiwara and Caswell 2001).

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Highly vulnerable
Intrinsic Vulnerability Comments: Slow to mature, reproduces infrequently.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Inventory Needs: Determine important areas for feeding and reproduction.

Protection Needs: Continue to protect from hunting; protect habitat; promote and enforce regulations that reduce collisions with vessels. See recovery plan (1990).

Distribution
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Global Range: (20,000-2,500,000 square km (about 8000-1,000,000 square miles)) Remnant populations occur in the North Atlantic (mainly Florida and Gulf of Mexico to Labrador). Very rare in the eastern North Atlantic (fewer than 10 reliable sightings within the past 50 years, but including a female and calf were observed off Portugal in 1995 (Martin and Walker 1997). North Atlantic high-use areas include coastal Florida and Georgia (winter calving); Great South Channel east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts (spring feeding); Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod Bay (winter-spring feeding); Bay of Fundy (summer and fall feeding and nursery area); and Browns and Baccaro banks south of Nova Scotia (Roseway Basin, summer and fall feeding) (Right Whale Recovery Team 1990, Malik et al. 1999). See Right Whale Recovery Team (1990) and IUCN (1991) for further details. The Bay of Fundy is the important nursery area, but at least one other nursery area (as yet unidentified) must exist (Schaeff et al. 1993, Malik et al. 1999).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces
Color legend for Distribution Map
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States DEextirpated, FL, GA, MA, MD, ME, NC, NJ, NY, RI, TX
Canada LB, NB, NF, NS, PE, QC

Range Map
No map available.


U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
GA Camden (13039), Mcintosh (13191)
MA Barnstable (25001)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
02 Sandy Hook-Staten Island (02030104)+, Delaware Bay (02040204)+, Mullica-Toms (02040301)+
03 Ogeechee Coastal (03060204)+, Cumberland-St. Simons (03070203)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: A large baleen whale.
General Description: A rotund baleen whale lacking a dorsal fin; body is black to brown, sometimes mottled, with irregular white patches on the throat, belly, and sometimes other parts of the body; head is large, with a narrow rostrum and strongly arched upper jaws and strongly bowed lower jaws; pale callostities are present on the rostrum, near the paired nostrils, above the eyes, and on the chin and lower lips; flippers are large and broad; rear edge of tail fluke is smooth; baleen is long (to 2.8 m) and usually dark; throat lacks longitudinal grooves; grows to about 17-18 m, the largest individuals being females; spout is bushy and V-shaped (Leatherwood and Reeves 1983, Nowak 1991).
Diagnostic Characteristics: Right whales differ from other large whales in having callosities on the head; also, the absence of a dorsal fin distinguishes right whales from many other large whales. Lacks the knuckled ridge along the spine and the more elongate body and flippers of the gray whale. There are no known external morphological differences between E. GLACIALIS and E. AUSTRALIS, though it has been suggested that callosities along the upper surface of the lower lips are present more consistently in AUSTRALIS (see Leatherwood and Reeves 1983); of course, the two taxa cannot be mistaken in the field since their ranges are far apart.
Reproduction Comments: Gestation may be about 16 months (Right Whale Recovery Team 1990) (also reported as 11-12 months and 13-14 months). Peak in calving apparently occurs from December through March off the southeastern U.S. (Right Whale Recovery Team 1990). Young nurse for at least 9 months (Right Whale Recovery Team 1990) (another report: weaned in 6-7 months). During their first year, calves accompany their mothers during the spring migration and summer feeding (Schaeff et al. 1993). Sexually mature in 5-9 years. Mean age of first parturition is 7.6 years (Knowlton et al. 1994). One calf is produced generally every 3-5 years.
Ecology Comments: Travels singly or in small groups of 2-3, though may aggregate in areas with high concentration of food.
Habitat Type: Marine
Non-Migrant: N
Locally Migrant: N
Long Distance Migrant: Y
Mobility and Migration Comments: Migrates seasonally between high latitudes (summer) and lower latitudes (winter), though migrations are less regular and coherent than those of humpback or gray whale (Leatherwood and Reeves 1983).

North Atlantic: generally most spend early summer off the coast of New England, move to waters off southern Canada (lower Bay of Fundy or area between Browns and Baccaro banks) in late summer and fall; some remain in northern waters in winter but most leave (beginning as early as October); pregnant females move south to winter calving areas off Georgia and Florida; wintering area for the rest of the population is unknown; northward movement occurs in late winter and early spring; perhaps most of the population moves through the Cape Cod-Massachusetts Bay area and Great South Channel March-May (Right Whale Recovery Team 1990). Females usually and males commonly return to their natal area in subsequent summers (Schaeff et al. 1993).

North Pacific: may be nomadic in summer, movements depending on where food resources are abundant; winter range is largely unknown (Right Whale Recovery Team 1990).

Marine Habitat(s): Near shore, Pelagic
Habitat Comments: Inhabits nearshore and offshore waters. Mainly coastal in the North Atlantic, occurs over the continental shelf in the North Pacific (Right Whale Recovery Team 1990). Tynan et al. (2001) found a few of the remaining North Pacific animals concentrated in relatively warm (10.4 C SST), shallow (50 to 80 m deep), well-stratified water in an extensive coccolithophore bloom of EMILIANIA HUXLEYI. Mother-calf pairs generally concentrate their summer feeding activities in relatively secluded areas away from sites frequented by other whales (Schaeff et al. 1993).
Adult Food Habits: Invertivore
Immature Food Habits: Invertivore
Food Comments: Diet mainly calanoid copepods and juvenile euphausiids. Feeds by skimming--swims with mouth open usually below the surface, sometimes at the surface. Depends on concentrations of zooplankton. In Bay of Fundy, appeared to exploit patches of copepods at densities greater than about 820 per cubic m (Murison and Gaskin 1989). In Cape Cod Bay, rarely fed where total zooplankton density was less than 1000 organisms per cubic meter (Mayo and Marx 1990). In the southeastern Bering Sea, fed primarily on later copepodite stages of the calanoid copepod CALANUS MARSHALLAE. Historically (1940s-1960s), this population had concentrated on the oceanic copepod NEOCALANUS CRISTATUS in deeper waters (Tynan et al. 2001).
Adult Phenology: Circadian
Immature Phenology: Circadian
Phenology Comments: Active day/night.
Length: 1400 centimeters
Weight: 23000000 grams
Economic Attributes
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Economic Comments: Tens of thousands were harvested during the past few centuries; main exploitation ended around the 1920s; see IUCN (1991) for a review of exploitation history.
Management Summary
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Restoration Potential: No signs of recovery despite over 60 years of protection.
Management Requirements: In 1996, NMFS proposed rules that would prohibit vessels from approaching a right whale closer than 460 m (Federal Register, 7 August 1996). To avoid jeopardy to right whales, NMFS (Federal Register, 3 November 1997) proposed closing the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast Coastal segments of the Atlantic pelagic drift gillnet fishery for swordfish, tuna, and shark through 31 July 1998.
Biological Research Needs: Determine reasons for lack of recovery.
Population/Occurrence Delineation
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Use Class: Calving area
Subtype(s): Calving area
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: A marine area to which migratory females return in order to give birth. Minimally, at least two and preferably several years of observation should be used to reliably identify persistent occurrences.
Mapping Guidance: All known sightings over a period of time in an area should be collectively mapped as a single polygon feature, or multiple polygons if there are separate feeding areas separated by more than 5 km. Individual sightings could also be mapped as source feature points within this principal EO, although this may be impractical over time. If useful, year-to-year variation in areas could be mapped as separate source feature polygons within a larger multi-year principal EO.
Separation Barriers: None.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 60 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 150 km
Separation Justification: Separation distance is somewhate arbitrary; based on that given to nonbreeding and nursery foraging areas.
Date: 30Jan2002
Author: Cannings, S.

Use Class: Migratory corridor
Subtype(s): Migration corridor
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: A marine area that is used recurrently by migrating whales. Minimally, at least two and preferably several years of observation should be used to reliably identify recurrent corridors that include at least 10% of the regional population.
Separation Barriers: None.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 60 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 150 km
Separation Justification: Separation distance is arbitrary; based on that assigned for occurrences outside the migratory period.
Date: 30Jan2002
Author: Cannings, S.

Use Class: Nonbreeding
Subtype(s): Foraging area
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: A marine area that is occupied consistently or recurrently by foraging whales that are neither migrating, calving nor nursing. Minimally, at least two and preferably several years of observation should be used to reliably identify significant, recurrent occurrences.
Mapping Guidance: All known sightings over a period of time in an area should be collectively mapped as a single polygon feature, or multiple polygons if there are separate feeding areas separated by more than 5 km. Individual sightings could also be mapped as source feature points within this principal EO, although this may be impractical over time. If useful, year-to-year variation in areas could be mapped as separate source feature polygons within a larger multi-year principal EO.
Separation Barriers: None.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 60 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 150 km
Separation Justification: Separation distance is arbitrary. Occurrences defined primarily on the basis of areas supporting foraging whales, rather than on the basis of distinct whale populations. Appropriate food patches 25 to 50 km apart could support the same group of whales moving between food patches. Broad areas of unsuitable habitat (marine regions unable to support production of appropriate food organisms due to oceanographic and physiographic conditions) can be used to separate different foraging groups.
Date: 30Jan2002
Author: Cannings, S., K. Bredin, L. Master

Use Class: Nursery area
Subtype(s): Nursery area
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: A marine area that is, or was, occupied by a recurring population made up primarily of feeding females and their nursing young. Minimally, at least two and preferably several years of observation should be used to reliably identify significant, persistent occurrences.
Mapping Guidance: All known sightings over a period of time in an area should be collectively mapped as a single polygon feature, or multiple polygons if there are separate feeding areas separated by more than 5 km. Individual sightings could also be mapped as source feature points within this principal EO, although this may be impractical over time. If useful, year-to-year variation in feeding areas could be mapped as separate source feature polygons within a larger multi-year principal EO.
Separation Barriers: None.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 60 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 150 km
Separation Justification: Separation distance is arbitrary. Occurrences defined primarily on the basis of areas supporting foraging whales, rather than on the basis of distinct whale populations. Appropriate food patches 25 to 50 km apart could support the same group of whales moving between food patches. Broad areas of unsuitable habitat (marine regions unable to support production of appropriate food organisms due to oceanographic and physiographic conditions) can be used to separate different foraging groups.
Date: 30Jan2002
Author: Bredin, K., L. Master, and S. Cannings
Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 05Apr2011
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Hammerson, G.
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 25May1995
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): Hammerson, G.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

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Citation for data on website including State Distribution, Watershed, and Reptile Range maps:
NatureServe. 2017. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available http://explorer.natureserve.org. (Accessed:

Citation for Bird Range Maps of North America:
Ridgely, R.S., T.F. Allnutt, T. Brooks, D.K. McNicol, D.W. Mehlman, B.E. Young, and J.R. Zook. 2003. Digital Distribution Maps of the Birds of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Bird Range Maps of North America:
"Data provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Robert Ridgely, James Zook, The Nature Conservancy - Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International - CABS, World Wildlife Fund - US, and Environment Canada - WILDSPACE."

Citation for Mammal Range Maps of North America:
Patterson, B.D., G. Ceballos, W. Sechrest, M.F. Tognelli, T. Brooks, L. Luna, P. Ortega, I. Salazar, and B.E. Young. 2003. Digital Distribution Maps of the Mammals of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Mammal Range Maps of North America:
"Data provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Bruce Patterson, Wes Sechrest, Marcelo Tognelli, Gerardo Ceballos, The Nature Conservancy-Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International-CABS, World Wildlife Fund-US, and Environment Canada-WILDSPACE."

Citation for Amphibian Range Maps of the Western Hemisphere:
IUCN, Conservation International, and NatureServe. 2004. Global Amphibian Assessment. IUCN, Conservation International, and NatureServe, Washington, DC and Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Amphibian Range Maps of the Western Hemisphere:
"Data developed as part of the Global Amphibian Assessment and provided by IUCN-World Conservation Union, Conservation International and NatureServe."

NOTE: Full metadata for the Bird Range Maps of North America is available at:
http://www.natureserve.org/library/birdDistributionmapsmetadatav1.pdf.

Full metadata for the Mammal Range Maps of North America is available at:
http://www.natureserve.org/library/mammalsDistributionmetadatav1.pdf.

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