The North Atlantic right whale is one of the rarest of marine mammals. It is a big, mostly black animal with some whitish patches on its head and belly, it lacks a dorsal fin, and it has a graceful, deeply notched tail or "fluke". It has long fringes of baleen rather than teeth, which are used for straining tiny animals out of the water for food. A pair of blowholes on its head cause the right whale's spout to have a distinctive V-shape. It is amongst the most endangered of the world's marine mammals.
North Atlantic right whales inhabit the western North Atlantic, from Nova Scotia to Florida. They migrate from a calving ground near Florida and Georgia on North America's eastern seaboard, to summering grounds in the Bay of Fundy, the Gulf of Maine, and the Scotian Shelf, with some animals going as far as the Gulf of St Lawrence, the Denmark and Davis Straits and sometimes Iceland and Norway. The species migrates between two essential habitats: calving grounds and feeding grounds, the latter in the north of the range and the former in the warmer waters of the south of the range, in bays or shallow coastal waters.
These whales generally travel solo or with a small group. The usual group size ranges from two to 12 but is usually two. The composition of the group varies from female-calf, males only, or mixed. Group size is difficult to determine because of the dispersion. Larger groups may exist over long distances by staying in contact with echolocation. These whales are quite social and swim alongside other species of cetaceans. Social groups can moan and bellow at night to each other around breeding areas. Females will sometimes swim while on their backs, cradling a newborn calf on their bellies in their huge flippers. The North Atlantic right whale will make a series of brief shallow dives before diving underwater for as long as 20 minutes.
These whales are polyandrous, with females mating with many males. No aggression is seen between competing males, a rare behavior for mammals. A North Atlantic right whale mates in the winter. Gestation lasts 12-13 months, with females giving birth to a single calf. Every three to four years they give birth to one calf. The mother and her calf remain close together until around the age of one when the calf is weaned. During the first year the calf learns from its mother where the critical feeding grounds are, and it will visit them for the rest of its life. North Atlantic right whales are sexually mature between 8 – 11 years old.
This species is threatened by being separated from calving areas due to shipping traffic by, ship collisions and by becoming tangled in fishing nets, entanglement sometimes causing serious injury or death because fishing gear can wrap around the whale’s mouth and stop it from feeding or cause it to drown because it cannot surface for air. Oceans warming up can impact the food sources of whales. Extensive patches of minute animals and plants that they eat will likely change in abundance or move elsewhere as seawater temperature, ocean currents and winds alter due to climate change. The shift in the availability of food has already damaged the reproductive rates of this endangered whale.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the North Atlantic right whale is estimated to be around 300-350 individuals. Currently this species is classified as Endangered (EN).