The right whales (Eubalaena spp.) are baleen whales with bow-shaped lower
jaw and a head that is up to one-quarter of the body length. The head is hairier
than most whales; up to 300 hairs are found on the tip of the lower jaw and 100
are on the upper jaw. There are also callosities (a series of horny growths)
behind the blowhole, on the chin, above the eyes, on the lower lip, and on the
rostrum (the beak-like upper jaw). Right whales are similar to bowhead whales,
but smaller. These whales are rich in blubber and have 2 blowholes. The eyes are
very small and lips are large. Right whales were named by whalers who considered
them the "right" whales to hunt, since they were rich in blubber, they
were easy to catch (they are relatively slow swimmers) and they floated after
Northern right whale females grow to be about 50 feet (15.2 m) long,
males are about 49 feet (15 m) long. They weigh approximately 120,000 pounds
(54,000 kg). Southern right whale females are about 54 feet (16.5 m) long, males
are about 50 feet (15.2 m) long. The females are slightly larger than males, as
with all baleen whales.
Skin, Shape, and Fins
The right whale's skin is usually black to dark gray with white and/or brown
patches. Calves are blue to gray colored.
Right whales have no dorsal fin and no throat grooves. They have large flippers.
Diet and Baleen
Right whales (like all baleen whales) are seasonal feeders and carnivores that
filter feed plankton
and tiny crustaceans like copepods, krill,
pteropods, etc., from the water. Right whales are skimmers, filter feeders that
swim slowly with their mouth open, constantly eating. On occasion, they are also
bottom feeders, eating benthic prey from the mud on the ocean floor. The fine
baleen hairs can filter out very tiny prey including copepods, steropods,
euphasiids and mysids (tiny crustaceans).
The right whales have about 200-270 pairs of black baleen plates with gray-black
to white bristles hanging from the jaws. The baleen is long and very fine;
baleen plates are up to 9.5 feet (3 m) long.
Right whales only long-term bonds are between mother and calf.
Spouting - Breathing
Right whales breathe air at the surface of the water through 2 blowholes
located near the top of the head.
Right whales live in temperate and cool seas in both hemispheres at the
surface of the ocean. Southern right whales live at latitudes between 20°-55°
but will occasionally venture down to 63°
The right whale gestation period is about 12 months and the calf is born tail
first (this is normal for cetaceans) and near the surface. The newborn
instinctively swims to the surface within 10 seconds for its first breath; it is
helped by its mother, using her flippers. Within 30 minutes of its birth the
baby whale can swim. The newborn calf is about 16-19 feet (4.8-6 m) long. Twins
are rare; there is usually one calf. The baby is nurtured with its mother's milk
and is weaned in about 1 year when the calf is roughly 28 feet long.
Right whales may have a life expectancy of over 60 years, although this figure
is not at all certain (very little is known about these whales).
Northern right whales are near extinction due to past hunting pressures and are
an endangered species; it is estimated that there are 500-1,000 northern right
whales alive and they are near extinction. The southern whales are more abundant
(there are perhaps 3,000 alive) but are vulnerable to extinction and are also an