North Atlantic Right Whales (Eubalaena glacialis) inhabit the Atlantic Ocean, especially between 20o and 60o N latitude. Most individuals in 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. In 1991, five "high use" areas were identified by the National Marine Fisheries Service: (1) coastal Florida and Georgia, (2) Great South Channel, (3) Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod Bay, (4) Bay of Fundy, and (5) Scotian Shelf (NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources Website, accessed 10 December 2009, http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/rightwhale_northatlantic.htm).
The eastern North Atlantic population may originally have migrated along the coast from northern Europe to the northwest coast of Africa. Historical records suggest these 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 (NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources Website, accessed 10 December 2009, http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/rightwhale_northatlantic.htm).
What was long treated as a single right whale species is now recognized as three distinct species by both scientists and federal regulatory agencies (Rosenbaum et al. 2000; Gaines et al. 2005; http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/). The North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica), which inhabits the Pacific Ocean, especially between 20o and 60o N latitude, is now widely recognized as a species distinct from the North Atlantic right whale. Similarly, the Southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) is now recognized as a distinct species occurring in the southern hemisphere between around 20o and 60o S latitude.
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