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Northern Right Whale



The northern right whale is arguably the world's most endangered great whale. It is a "fat", slow whale. Right whales are massive animals, weighing more per foot of body length than any other species bar the bowhead.  

The main reason the northern right whale is so endangered is whaling.

Even the original name of the species - "true whale of the ice" - is no longer apt: they have virtually disappeared from the higher-latitude portions of their range in places like Iceland and Northern Norway. Good news arrived this month though, when scientists reported that they had detected northern right whales in an area off the southern tip of Greenland where they had been thought extinct.  

Right whales are also at risk from shipping. They are vulnerable to collisions with ships as they ignore general ship sounds. Alarm sirens intended to scare them away from ships may actually be more likely to cause a collision, as the whales have been shown to rush to the surface when they hear the alarm. 

The western Northern Atlantic population of right whales numbers 300-400 animals, and despite over 60 years of protection shows no sign of recovery. This is due to their slow reproduction and deaths caused by humans from entanglement in fishing gear and the ship strikes. The European population is in an even worse state and until the recent research had been thought extinct. Interestingly, it has been suggested that preventing the deaths of only two females a year would increase the western population growth rate to a sustainable level. 

Commercial whaling probably began in Europe in early medieval times.

The northern right whale was the perfect target: slow, inhabiting coastal waters and with a thick layer of blubber that caused it to float when killed. Being so large, the right whale yielded an enormous quantity of meat, oil and baleen. All of these characteristics probably gave the right whale its name - it was the "right" whale to kill. The earliest record of whaling is in 1059.  

As plankton feeders, right whales move through patches of plankton with their mouths agape, continuously filtering as they swim. One of the biggest animals feeding on one of the smallest. The whales are very good at finding the patches of plankton, and at efficiently feeding in the densest patches.

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