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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Northern Right Whale Eubalaena glacialis

The northern right whale was one of the first whales to be hunted commercially and is now one of the most critically endangered species, with a total population of about 500 individuals.

A deep bluish black, apart from white markings on its belly, it has a deeply arched mouth, with a lower jaw shaped like a gigantic scoop. The northern right whale's head is covered with distinctive areas of hard pale skin, known as callosities, which scientists use to identify individuals. Like all baleen whales, it feeds by filtering food from seawater, using brushlike strips of baleen that hang from its upper jaw.

Northern right whales feed at high latitudes, but they migrate to warmer waters to breed. An almost identical species, the southern right whale, is found in the Southern Hemisphere. Unlike its northern counterpart, its numbers are gradually increasing and are currently estimated to be about 5,000.


Commercial whaling has exploited many species. The northern right whale was one of the first to be seriously affected. This whale was decimated by Basque whalers who then expanded operations to Canada in the 1500s. The sperm whale was the quarry of American whalers in the Pacific from the 1780s. Modern whaling, targeting species such as the blue whale, expanded rapidly in the 20th century, using factory ships and explosive harpoons.

What Oceana Does to Protect Northern Right Whales

Oceana works to protect marine mammals such as the northern right whale from becoming bycatch in commercial fisheries.


Northern Right Whalezoom image
  • Order Cetacea
  • Length 43–56 ft (13–17 m)
  • Depth 33–88 tons (30–80 metric tons)
  • Habitat Temperate and subpolar waters
  • Distribution Northwestern Atlantic, vestigial populations in northeastern Atlantic and Pacific
Northern Right Whale habitat mapzoom image