- Scientific Name: Eubalaena glacialis
- Average Length: 50 feet (15 metres)
- Status: Endangered - A species facing imminent extinction
- Primary Threats: collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear
Scientists named the North Atlantic right whale Eubalaena glacialis, which means "good", or "true" whale of the ice in Latin, the language used by all scientists to name and classify animals and plants. There are two other species of right whale, Eubalaena australis, which lives in the southern hemisphere, and Eubalaena japonica, the North Pacific right whale. The three different species of right whales never meet in their ocean travels. While southern right whales are increasing at a rate of 7-8% per year, North Atlantic right whales are not showing any signs of recovering from historical whaling with approximately 500 individuals left.
For reasons no one really understands right whales are producing alarmingly low numbers of calves. In the 1999/2000 calving season, for instance, researchers sighted only one new calf. A dramatic change took place in the 2000/2001 calving season with the birth of over 30 calves. No one knows for sure why the birth rates are fluctuating so much. It will take a number of years before scientists are able to determine if right whales are producing enough calves to keep the population going.
Even though right whales in the 21st century are safe from whaler's harpoons, they continue to face other serious threats to recovery. Right whales die from collisions with ships, and are often injured and scarred, and sometimes die, from entanglements in fishing gear. Scientists and government officials in both the United States and Canada are working with the shipping and fishing industries to find ways for right whales and humans to coexist safely in the ocean.
Some scientists believe that if right whales continue to be killed in accidents caused by humans and if they continue to give birth to such small numbers of calves each year, they could be extinct in less than 200 years.
There are very likely also natural forces working against the survival of the right whale. For instance, no one knows if right whales are getting enough food and although we humans are helpless to improve their food supply, changes in how we treat the oceans would result in a healthier ecosystem that could provide enough food for even its largest members. But, until we totally understand what is happening to the right whale, we must concentrate on protecting them and their habitat areas from harm wherever possible.