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North Atlantic Right Whales (Eubalaena glacialis)
North Atlantic Right Whale #2681 a male born
in 1996; seen near Montauk Point August 23, 2015
2 of 8 right whales sighted during a CRESLI cruise on August 10,
2004 in the Great South Channel (about 90 miles SE of Boston)
The endangered North Atlantic Right Whales (Eubalaena glacialis) were named so because they were the "right whale" to hunt. They were the right whale to hunt for a variety of reasons, including slow swimming speed(4 knots maximum) ; floating after death; significant amounts of very long and flexible baleen; and significant amounts of blubber that could be rendered down into oil. Right whales were "protected" from legal hunting in 1935, but have not been able to recover.
Studies of biopsied North Atlantic right whales indicate very little
genetic variability within the population. This is assumed to be due to
significant inbreeding, following the reduction of the population
(population bottleneck) due to whaling. Reduced reproductive success due
to inbreeding, coupled with the low reproductive rate of mysticetes in
general, might partly explain the lack of recovery of Eubalaena
glacialis. Recent analyses indicate that the population
bottleneck might pre-date whaling (Rastogi, et al, 2004).
Right whales feed almost exclusively on small crustaceans called
calanoid copepods, and hence have a very limited food niche. Right
whales calve in winter off the coast of Georgia and Florida, and can
sometimes be seen in the waters off New York during their migration to
and from their typical feeding grounds (the Great South Channel, the
Gulf of Maine, the Scotian shelf, and now the Gulf of St. Lawrence and elsewhere in the Western North Atlantic). Sometimes right whales can be seen in
NY's waters in the summer as well.
Kraus, et al (2005) state: "Despite international protection from
commercial whaling since 1935, the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena
glacialis) remains one of the most endangered whales in the world"
Protective measures instituted via the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) seemed to have worked in the early part of the 21st Century and the North Atlantic right whale population grew to and estimated population size of
In a 2017 paper, Pace, Corkeron, and Krauss state:
"North Atlantic right whales’ abundance increased at about 2.8% per annum from median point estimates of 270 individuals in 1990 to 483 in 2010, and then declined to 2015, when the final estimate was 458 individuals (95% credible intervals 444–471). The probability that the population’s trajectory post-2010 was a decline was estimated at 99.99%. Of special concern was the finding that reduced survival rates of adult females relative to adult males have produced diverging abundance trends between sexes."
Pace, R. M. III, Corkeron, P. J., &
Kraus, S. D. (2017). State-space mark-recapture estimates
reveal a recent decline in abundance of North Atlantic right
whales. Ecology and Evolution,
The continued loss of individuals to
ship strikes and entanglements, as well as climate-change
induced changes in prey ditribution and availability have
had devastating consequences and have left North Atlantic
Right Whales in an even more precarious state that before.
In October, 2017, NOAA Fisheries
North Atlantic Right Whale Unusual Mortality Event.
"Since June 7, 2017, elevated North
Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) mortalities have
occurred primarily in Canada. A total of 15 confirmed dead
stranded whales (12 in Canada; 3 in the U.S.), and five live
whale entanglements in Canada have been documented to date.
An additional whale stranded in the U.S. in April of this
year prior to the start of the UME bringing the annual total
to 16 confirmed dead stranded whales (12 in Canada; 4 in the
The following papers can shed some light on the status of
North Atlantic Right Whales:
NOAA Fisheries 2016 Stock Assesment Report for NORTH ATLANTIC RIGHT WHALE
(Eubalaena glacialis): Western Atlantic Stock
Meyer-Gutbrod, E. L., Greene, C. H., Sullivan, P. J., & Pershing, A. J.
(2015). Climate-associated changes in prey availability drive
reproductive dynamics of the North Atlantic right whale population. MARINE
ECOLOGY PROGRESS SERIES, 535, 243-258.
Meyer-Gutbrod, E. L., & Greene, C. H. (2014). Climate-Associated
Regime Shifts Drive Decadal-Scale Variability in Recovery of North
Atlantic Right Whale Population. Oceanography, 27(3), 148-153.
Monsarrat, S., Pennino, M. G., Smith, T. D., Reeves, R. R., Meynard,
C. N., Kaplan, D. M., & Rodrigues, A. S. (2015). A spatially explicit
estimate of the pre‐whaling abundance of the endangered North
Atlantic right whale.Conservation Biology.
Mussoline, S. E., Risch, D., Hatch, L. T., Weinrich, M. T., Wiley, D.
N., Thompson, M. A., ... & Van Parijs, S. M. (2012). Seasonal and
diel variation in North Atlantic right whale up-calls: implications
for management and conservation in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean.
Endangered Species Research, 17(1), 17-26.
Whitt, A. D., Dudzinski, K., & Laliberté, J. R. (2013). North
Atlantic right whale distribution and seasonal occurrence in
nearshore waters off New Jersey, USA, and implications for
management. Endangered Species Research, 20(1), 59-69.
Brillant, S. W., Vanderlaan, A. S., Rangeley, R. W., & Taggart, C. T.
(2015). Quantitative estimates of the movement and distribution of
North Atlantic right whales along the northeast coast of North
America. Endangered Species Research, 27, 141-154.