The North Pacific Right Whale is the rarest species of large cetacean with only 30 having been catalogued for identification in BC. At the brink of extinction with the last previously known whale hunted down in 1951, there was great excitement at two confirmed sightings of different whales in BC waters in June (Haida Gwaii) and October, 2013 (Swiftsure Bank/Strait of Juan de Fuca).
These whales were extensively hunted and were considered “Right” Whales because they were the right, or preferred one for a whaler to catch. Being slow swimmers and feeding on the surface, they made life very easy for whalers. Once dead, they would float making it easier for the whalers to pull the whales onto ships and onto shore. The blubber was then rendered for oil to use in lamps, for heat and as a fine machine oil. Their long (up to 9 feet or 2.7 meters), fine baleen had very high commercial value as “whale bone”, largely used to stiffen women’s clothing or corsets.
As a baleen whale, the Right Whale feeds on zooplankton, with preference given to copepods (tiny planktonic crustaceans) and krill using it’s baleen to strain its prey. Their vocalizations are expressive low-frequency moans and belchlike sounds as well as loud clicks. They can be very acrobatic, breaching and smacking the surface with their tail or flippers. Their V-shaped blow is bushy and often about 15 feet high.
North Pacific Right Whales are mainly black in colour with varying amounts of white on their undersides. They have a wide back, paddle-like flippers, and wide triangular tail flukes. The head of a Right Whale is very large, with a long, arched frown shaped mouth line. They have white marks and a number of callosities (thick and hard areas on the skin) on the snout, lower lip and above the eyes.
North Pacific Right Whale (Eubalaena japonica) specifics:
- up to 16.5m (54 ft)
- up to 90,000 kg (198,000 lb)
- Black body with white patch on belly
- Very robust body shape
SARA (Species At Risk Act) Status: Endangered