North Atlantic Right Whale

This is my paper for Coursera.

The North Atlantic Right Whale

right whale
(Source)

The North Atlantic right whale was given the name ‘right whale’ because sailors believed it was the right whale to hunt. The right whale is a slow swimmer, swims close to shore and floats when dead; all things that a sailor would find helpful when trying to kill a whale and retrieve it. The right whale has no dorsal fin, like other baleen whales, instead it has a broad wide back. But it’s paddle-like flippers and triangular fluke help it navigate the ocean. Like other whales, the right whale makes moans and sounds to communicate, but unlike other whales the right whale also communicates with a ‘baleen rattle’. This sound happens when they are feeding and water passes through the baleen plates making a rattling sound.

The scientific name of the right whale is Eubalaena Glacialis which means ‘true whale of ice.’ The taxonomic information is: Kingdom: Animalia, Phylum: Chordata, Class: Mammalia, Order: Cetacea, Family: Balaenidae, Genus: Eubalaena. The common name is the North Atlantic right whale. A related species of the Right whale is the North Pacific right whale and the Southern right whale.

The North Atlantic right whale ranges in size from 40-60 ft long (13-16 m) and weighs from 140,000-200,000 lbs (63.500-90,000 kg). They have a sturdy, black body with no dorsal fin and callouses on their heads and sometimes white patches on their bellies. Their range is the Atlantic ocean between 20 and 60 degrees latitude. Most right whale nurseries are in shallow coastal water. Their are five areas that are high use for North Atlantic right whales they are: Coastal Florida and Georgia, Great South Channel, Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod Bay, Bay of Fundy and the Scotian Shelf. It is believed that there are only 300 to 400 North Atlantic right whales left in the ocean.

The right whale can live to be about 50 years old, there is come conjecture that they might live as long as 100 years. Female right whales give birth to their first calf at about 10 years old. The gestation period is one year in length. The right whales gives birth in shallow coastal waters off the coast of Georgia and Florida from December to March. A female gives birth to one calf every three to five years. The calf nurses from the mother for 10-12 months and generally stays close to her for a long period of time.

Although the right whale is a baleen whale, it feeds differently than most. It tends to skim the surface and remove zooplankton while moving it’s mouth and baleen back and forth. They have about 225 baleen plates in their mouths that help them feed on 2,600 lbs of zooplankton per day. They eat zooplankton which includes copepods, euphausiids, and cyprids.

One thing that I did not mention about the right whale is its callouses. Right whales have callouses that are white on their faces. They are white because of cyamids. These tiny creatures are crustaceans related to skeleton shrimp and are parasites. In the case of the right whale they settle on the callouses and eat algae that attaches to the whale. The white cyamids make distinctive patterns on each right whale, thus allowing scientists to tell right whales apart by their callous/lice patterns.

The main threat faced by the right whale is human interference. Originally the population of these whales was depleted due to whaling ventures. Now boats, ships and fishing nets can all cause harm to these whales. To help protect them, the NOAA works with people to educate them about right whales and tells them how to avoid ship strikes. The NOAA uses photographs of individual whales to tell boaters where the whales are so they won’t bump into them. The NOAA also works to reduce net entanglement by setting limits on where fishing nets can be used.

One expert on North Atlantic right whales is Amy Knowlton. She is a right whale researcher that works for the New England aquarium. She loved whales from an early age and went to Boston college to study Geography. She did a semester called ‘Sea semester in Woods Hole’ and spent 12 weeks studying the ocean. It was this trip that got her interested in the ocean. She started volunteering at the New England aquarium and attached herself to the right whale research program. She’s been hooked ever since. Most of her job is spent analyzing data and matching up right whale photos to figure out what the population status is at.

Here are three references for further reading:
1. Harrison, Molly, (2005), The Kids’ Times: Right whale. NOAA publication. http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/education/kids_times_whale_right.pdf
This is a good site for kids, it gives a lot of important information about right whales but is written in a style that kids will be able to read.

2. Mellinger, D. K., Nieukirk, S. L., Matsumoto, H., Heimlich, S. L., Dziak, R. P., Haxel, J., Fowler, M., Meinig, C. and Miller, H. V. (2007), Seasonal occurrence of North Atlantic right whlae (Eubalaena Glacialis) vocalizations at two sites on the Scotian Shelf. Marine Mammal Science, 23: 856–867.
This article is about using recorded calls of the right whales to ascertain feeding patterns and right whale movements.

3. Cupka, David and Murphy, Margaret, (2005) North Atlantic Right Whale. South Carolina state documents. http://portal.dnr.sc.gov/cwcs/pdf/rightwhale.pdf
This article gives information on the background of the right whale, population, status, habitat and more in an easy to read manner.

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