Right whales are primarily solitary animals, although sometimes they are found in pairs.
The growths, or callosities, on their head are distinctive enough to identify individuals.
They move slowly through the water with their mouth partially agape, straining plankton with their baleen plates.
Only about three hundred to six hundred of them still exist because of overhunting for centuries for their oil, meat, and baleen (whalebone).
Their common name stems from their being the "right" whale to hunt: They were among the most valuable of whales; they swim slowly, close to shore; and once killed, their carcasses float, or "right" themselves.
Name: Northern Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis)
Family: Balaenidae (Right and Bowhead Whales)
Range: Northern Pacific and Atlantic oceans
Habitat: Coastal waters
Diet: Krill and other small crustaceans
Total Length: 36 to 59 feet (11 to 18 m)
Weight: 66,000 to 180,000 pounds (30,000 to 80,000 kg)
Life Cycle: Mating February to April; gestation 365 days, one calf born
Description: Mostly black in color; white callosities on and around the head; robust and heavy-bodied; strongly bowed lower jaw; no dorsal fin; huge, ridged flippers; V-shaped spout
Conservation Status: Endangered
Major Threat: Human disturbance
Description: A large, blackish whale with the following features: no dorsal fin; head huge, about one-fourth of total length; baleen (whalebone) about 2 m long, 30 cm wide, and between 200 and 250 in number on each side of mouth; closure of mouth highly arched; no furrows on the throat; prominent, large, wartlike areas (called bonnets), the one near tip of snout largest. Total length of adults, 14-17 m; weight, 20-30 metric tons.
Distribution in Texas: Worldwide in distribution but extremely rare. Only 3,000-4,000 remain in the world’s oceans, with about 100 constituting the North Atlantic population. These whales are listed as "endangered." Known in Texas from a single individual that beached in February, 1972, at Surfside Beach near Freeport, Brazoria County.
Habits: Right whales were so named by early whalers because they were the "right" whale to kill — they are slow swimmers and were thus easily caught, floated when dead, and produced large quantities of oil and baleen. Consequently, right whales were decimated early by the world’s whaling industries and have yet to recover.
Right whales spend spring, summer, and autumn at high latitude feeding grounds and migrate to more southerly, warmer waters in winter for mating and calving. Northern and southern populations do not interbreed due to asynchronous seasons between the hemispheres.
Right whales produce a variety of vocal sounds as well as percussive sounds of breaching, flipper slapping, and tail slapping. A distinctive clacking sound has been described for these whales as they feed at the surface. Termed the "baleen rattle," this sound is produced by small wavelets rattling the baleen plates when they are partially held out of water. Right whale sounds appear to differ with changing behavior and, thus, may be important in communication. As with other baleen whales, right whales probably do not echolocate.
Right whales feed by skimming through concentrations of krill. They have been seen feeding at depths ranging from the surface down to 10 m although they may also feed at deeper levels. Location of krill concentrations in the water column probably determines feeding depth.
After a one-year gestation period, females give birth to a single calf in winter. Calves are 5-6 m in length at birth but grow rapidly during the subsequent period of lactation, which lasts about 13 months. Calves remain with their mothers for 2-3 years following weaning and probably reach sexual maturity at about 10 years of age. Females give birth at 2 to 7 year intervals.