northern right whale

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things about northern right whale.

Species Description

Weight:up to 70 tons (140,000 lbs; 63,500 kg)

Length:about 50 feet (15 m);
calves are about 14 feet (4.2 m) at birth

Appearance:stocky black body, with no dorsal fin, and callosities (raised patches of rough skin) on the head region

Lifespan:about 50 years, but there are few data on the longevity of right whales. There are indications that closely related species may live over 100 years.

Diet:zooplankton, including copepods, euphausiids, and cyprids

Behavior:Unlike other baleen whales, right whales are skimmers; they feed by removing prey from the water using baleen while moving with their mouth open through a patch of zooplankton.

habitat

Most known right whale nursery areas are in shallow, coastal waters.

Right whales have occurred historically in all the world's oceans from temperate to subpolar latitudes. They primarily occur in coastal or shelf waters, although movements over deep waters are known. Right whales migrate to higher latitudes during spring and summer.

Critical Habitat

We designated critical habitat for the Eubalaena glacialis in 1994 (59 FR 28805), and in January 2016, we expanded the critical habitat areas. There are two critical habitat areas in the North Atlantic:

more about northern right whale

Right whales are large baleen whales. Females are larger than males. Distinguishing features include a stocky body, black coloration (although some have white patches on their bellies), no dorsal fin, a large head (about 1/4 of the body length), strongly bowed lower lip, and callosities (raised patches of roughened skin) on their head. Two rows of long--up to 8 feet (2.4 m)--dark baleen plates hang from their upper jaw, with about 225 plates on each side. Their tail is broad, deeply notched, and all black with a smooth trailing edge.

distribution

North Atlantic right whales inhabit the Atlantic Ocean, particularly between 20° and 60° latitude.

For much of the year, their distribution is strongly correlated to the distribution of their prey. During winter, right whales occur in lower latitudes and coastal waters where calving takes place. However, the whereabouts of much of the population during winter remains unknown.

The majority of the western North Atlantic population range from wintering and calving areas in coastal waters off the southeastern United States to summer feeding and nursery grounds in New England waters and north to the Bay of Fundy and Scotian Shelf. We identified five "areas of high use" that are key habitat areas for right whales:

  • Coastal Florida and Georgia
  • Great South Channel
  • Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod Bay
  • Bay of Fundy
  • Scotian Shelf

The eastern North Atlantic population may originally have migrated along the coast from northern Europe to the northwest coast of Africa. Historic records suggest that animals were heavily exploited by whalers from the Bay of Biscay off southern Europe and Cintra Bay off the northwestern coast of Africa, as well as off coastal Iceland and the British Isles. During the early to mid 1900s, right whales were intensely harvested in the Shetlands, Hebrides, and Ireland. Recent surveys suggest right whales no longer frequent Cintra Bay or northern European waters. Due to a lack of sightings, current distribution and migration patterns of the eastern North Atlantic right whale population are unknown.


Population Trends


It is believed the western North Atlantic population numbers about 450 individual right whales. Recent analysis of sightings data suggests a slight growth in population size, however, North Atlantic right whales remain critically endangered.

Although precise estimates of abundance are not available for the eastern North Atlantic right whales, the population is nearly extinct, probably only numbering in the low tens of animals. It is unclear whether right whales found in the eastern North Atlantic represent a "relict" population or whether all or some of these whales are individuals from the known western North Atlantic population.

populatio trends

It is believed the western North Atlantic population numbers about 450 individual right whales. Recent analysis of sightings data suggests a slight growth in population size, however, North Atlantic right whales remain critically endangered.

Although precise estimates of abundance are not available for the eastern North Atlantic right whales, the population is nearly extinct, probably only numbering in the low tens of animals. It is unclear whether right whales found in the eastern North Atlantic represent a "relict" population or whether all or some of these whales are individuals from the known western North Atlantic population.

climate change

Climate change poses a threat to the North Atlantic right whale as global temperatures increase and ocean processes change. Long migratory periods, gestations, and time gaps between calves results in slow-growing right whale populations.[53] A brief change in food availability can affect right whale populations for years after. Females must have access to plenty of food to successfully make it through pregnancy and produce enough milk to rear a calf. To illustrate the species’ sensitivity to food availability, in 1998 zooplankton populations dropped dramatically following a climate shift. Even though zooplankton abundance began to rise again in 1999, right whales have such a long reproduction and migratory cycle that the population was greatly affected by the minimal food availability from the year before. In 1999, only one right whale calf was born, compared to the 21 that were born in 1996, before the climate shift. In 2001, after the zooplankton populations greatly recovered, 30 calves were born.[54]

Zooplankton abundance has been found to be associated with the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), the most influential climate force in the Northern Hemisphere.[55] Periodically, pressure anomalies in the system shift from positive to negative as determined by the NAO Index, affecting temperatures and wind patterns. Abundant zooplankton populations have been linked to a positive NAO Index. As global temperatures increase, the NAO is predicted to shift more often and to greater intensities.[56] These shifts will likely greatly affect the abundance of zooplankton, posing a great risk for right whale populations that cannot rapidly adapt to a new food source.