North Atlantic right whale
The North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis which meant "good, or true, whale of the ice,") is a baleen whale, one of three right whale species belonging to the genus Eubalaena, which was formerly classified as a single species. About four hundred North Atlantic right whales live in the North Atlantic Ocean.
They migrate between feeding grounds in the Gulf of Maine and wintering sojourn and calving areas in Georgia and Florida. This is an ocean area with heavy shipping traffic.
Like other right whales, the North Atlantic right whale is readily distinguished from other whales by the callosities on its head, a broad back without a dorsal fin, and a long arching mouth that begins above the eye. The body of the whale is very dark grey or black, occasionally with some white patches on the belly. The right whale's callosities appear white, not due to skin pigmentation, but to large colonies of cyamids or whale lice.
Adult right whales average 35–55 feet (11–17 m) in length and weigh up to seventy tons (63,500 kg); the largest measured specimens have been 60 feet (18 m) long and 117 tons (106,500 kg). Females are larger than males and first give birth at age nine or ten after a year-long gestation; the interval between births seems to have increased in recent years and now averages three to six years. Calves are 13–15 feet (4.0–4.6 m) long at birth. There is little data on their life span, but it is believed to be at least fifty years, and some may live more than a century.
Right whales feed mainly on copepods and other small invertebrates (krill, pteropods, and larval barnacles), generally by slowly skimming through patches of concentrated prey at or below the ocean surface.
Right whales were so-named because whalers thought they were the "right" whale to hunt. Forty percent of a right whale's body weight is blubber, which is of relatively low density. Consequently, unlike many other species of whale, dead right whales float. Combined with the right whale's lack of speed through water, feeding habits, and coastal habitat, they were easy to catch, even for whalers equipped only with wooden boats and hand-held harpoons.
The Basques were the first to commercially hunt the North Atlantic right whale. They began whaling in the Bay of Biscay as early as the eleventh century. The whales were hunted initially for their oil but, as meat preservation technology improved, the animal was also used for food. Basque whalers reached eastern Canada by 1530 and the shores of Todos os Santos Bay (in Bahia, Brazil) by 1602. The last Basque whaling voyages were made prior to the commencement of the Seven Year's War (1756-1763). A few attempts were made to revive the trade, but they all failed. Basque shore whaling continued sporadically into the 19th century.
Setting out from Nantucket and New Bedford in Massachusetts and from Long Island, New York, the Americans were able to take up to one hundred right whales each year. By 1750, the population of North Atlantic right whales was, for commercial purposes, so depleted that Yankee whalers moved into the South Atlantic before the end of the eighteenth century.
As it became clear that populations were unsustainable, a worldwide ban on right whaling was adopted in 1937. The ban was largely successful, although some whaling continued in violation of the ban for several decades. Madeira took its last two right whales in 1968.
Mortality & Shipping
Recent reports have stated that the greatest danger to the North Atlantic right whale is injury sustained from being struck by ships. From 1970 through 1999, 35.5% of recorded deaths were attributed to ship strikes. During 1999-2003, the recorded mortality and serious injury attributed to ship strikes averaged 1 whale per year. From 2004-2006, that number increased to 2.6 whales per year. Deaths from collisions with shipping is now proving to be an extinction threat.
In 2007, and again on June 1, 2009, the US government changed shipping routes out of Boston in an attempt to reduce whale strikes, in particular to the North Atlantic right whale. NOAA estimates that implementing an "Area To Be Avoided" (ATBA) and narrowing the "Traffic Separation Scheme" (TSS) by one nautical mile will reduce the relative risk of right whale ship strikes by an estimated 74% during April-July (63% from the ATBA and 11% from the narrowing of the TSS).
Population and distribution
There are about four hundred North Atlantic right whales, almost all living in the western North Atlantic Ocean. In spring, summer, and autumn, they feed in areas off the Canadian and north-east US coasts in a range stretching from New York to Nova Scotia. Particularly popular feeding areas are the Bay of Fundy, the Gulf of Maine, and Cape Cod Bay. In winter, they head south towards Georgia and Florida to give birth to new generations of whales.
There have been a few sightings further east over the past few decades. (Several sightings were made close to Iceland in 2003.) It is possible that these are the remains of a virtually extinct eastern Atlantic stock, but examination of old whalers' records suggest that they are more likely to be strays from further west. However, a few right whales are sighted regularly in the waters adjacent to Norway, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and the Canary Islands.
In January 2009, one animal was sighted off Pico Island, Azores and this was the first confirmed appearance of the species in Azores since 1888. It was later revealed that this animal which was named as "Pico" is a female from the western Atlantic group. Sometimes, but rarely, right whales are observed in the Mediterranean Sea, near Italy and Sicily. Experts believe that the Norway individuals, at least, are strays from the western Atlantic stock. Evidence of some right whales in Greenland water were collected recently and it is not known whether these animals are a remnant population from the eastern Atlantic ocean or from the western stock. No right whales have been killed or confirmed off the coast of Greenland for around 200 years. 
Recently, scientists have recorded a record number of births among the population. The record 39 new calves – each of which weights about 3,000 pounds – were born off the Atlantic coast of Florida and Georgia. "Right whales, for the first time in a long time, are doing their part: They're having the babies; they're having record numbers of babies," said Monica Zani, an assistant scientist at the New England Aquarium who works with right whales. "We need to be vigilant and still do our part" to prevent the whales from being killed."
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- ^ Endangered right whales appear to be on the rebound | http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/science/04/03/right.whale.rebound/index.html