North Atlantic Right Whale


  • North Atlantic Right Whale
  • North Atlantic Right Whale
  • North Atlantic Right Whale
  • North Atlantic Right Whale
  • North Atlantic Right Whale

The right whale frequents the shallow coastal waters of the St. Lawrence from July to September. Observations remain exceptional.

North Atlantic right whales congregate in regions where food is abundant due to various oceanographic phenomena (thermal fronts and upwellings) and in bays serving as shelters for females accompanied by their calves (Bay of Fundy).

Southern right whales and North Pacific right whales are separate species.

The North Atlantic right whale appears in the List of threatened or vulnerable species in Quebec.

This species is listed as “endangered” by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s” (IUCN) List has listed The North Atlantic right whale as “endangered”.

North Atlantic right whales practice skim feeding and can feed in deep waters or at the surface.

They sometimes feed in groups.

They feed on zooplanktonic crustaceans (zooplankton) such as copepods and occasionally krill.

_Illustrated species: (from high to low, from left to right): copepods, krill

Rather solitary, they may be seen swimming in pairs or in small loosely knit groups of about 10 individuals, and sometimes even up to 50.

Right whales emit essentially low-frequency vocalizations: grunts, squeaks, percussive sounds.

They also make some high-pitched sounds. The purpose of these sounds is poorly understood. They appear however to be used for communication and the social life of groups active at the surface.

Right whales spend a great deal of time at the surface and are very slow swimmers.

Their low responsiveness to passing boats is an important factor in their mortality.

Their aerial feats are impressive: they leap out of the water and land loudly on their back or belly, or slap the surface with their tail and pectoral fins.

Photo credit: Jean Lemire

They generally raise their tail when they dive.

Their dives last between 6 and 8 minutes, but can reach up to 60 minutes.

Their prey are mostly found within the first 100 m or so below the surface, although they can dive as deep as 200 m.

A photo-identification program is critical for estimating the North Atlantic population. In late 2007, the group of researchers working on this population, the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium, qualified its renewal rate as “modest”.

The species is struggling to recover due to mortalities caused by collisions with boats and incidental catches in fishing gear. Despite the conservation measures taken in Canada and the United States, other causes may hamper its recovery: poor genetic diversity, disease, contaminants, reproductive problems and food resource depletion.

*A research project focused on the possible link between the Basque whaling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and off the coast of Labrador in the XVI and XVII centuries and the decline of the North Atlantic Right Whale population. The results cast doubt on the impact of Basque whaling on the decline of North Atlantic right whales. Instead, they suggest that the decline took place before the arrival of the Basque. In order to verify this hypothesis, genetic analyses will be carried out on a greater number of samples from several different sites along the shores of southeastern Labrador and the lower north shore of Quebec.