North Atlantic right whale
The North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis which means "good, or true, whale of the ice") is a baleen whale, one of three right whale species belonging to the genus Eubalaena, 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 their wintering sojourn and calving areas off Georgia and Florida, 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 such as 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 carcase 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, 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 18th 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 and shipping
Recent reports have stated that the greatest danger to the North Atlantic right whale is injury sustained from being struck by ships. Between 1970–1999, 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. In 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 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 the next generation of whales.
There have been a few sightings further east over the past few decades, with several sightings close to Iceland in 2003. There was speculation that these could be 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. A few right whales are sighted regularly in waters adjacent to Norway, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and the Canary Islands.
In January 2009, one animal was sighted off Pico Island, Azores, the first confirmed appearance of the species in the Azores since 1888. It was later revealed that this animal, which was named as "Pico", is a female from the western Atlantic group. Right whales have also rarely been observed in the Mediterranean Sea, near Italy and Sicily. Experts believe that the Norway sightings are also strays from the western Atlantic stock. Evidence of right whales in waters around Greenland has also been collected recently although their origin was not confirmed. Prior to this. no right whales had been killed or confirmed present off the coast of Greenland for around two hundred years. 
In early 2009, scientists recorded a record number of births among the western North Atlantic population. The 39 new calves, each weighing 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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