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North Atlantic Right Whales

The North Atlantic right whale, also known as the northern right whale or the black right whale, is a type of whale belonging to the taxonomic genus eubalaena along with two other species of right whale. More specifically, its scientific name is Eubalaena glacialis. North Atlantic right whales can be found in both the east and west of the North Atlantic Ocean, although the population in the east is so small that it is considered effectively extinct.

Typically, North Atlantic right whales measure between 43 and 52 feet in length and weigh between 88,000 and 150,000 pounds. The largest North Atlantic right whale ever measured, however, was 60 feet long and weighed 234,000 pounds. The North Atlantic right whale can be either dark gray or black in color, and can have white patches on its underside as well as white callosites, which gain their color from whale lice.

Though North Atlantic right whales are technically carnivores, they are baleen whales and therefore filter feeders, meaning that they consume fairly small organisms and are far from aggressive predators. They subsist predominantly on small crustaceans and other small invertebrates, and typically feed by slowly swimming through areas of high concentration of these organisms. They compete for food with some other baleen whale and filter-feeding shark species for food, but have not been observed in conflict with these species.

The North Atlantic right whale begins reproducing at the age of about nine or ten years, at which time females gestate for a year. The western population of North Atlantic right whales reproduce in the winter months off the coast of the southeastern United States. There is a gap of about three to six years in between birthing among North Atlantic right whales, a number that has grown recently.

North Atlantic right whales can be observed at the surface of the water most often during their mating season, since groups of right whales engage in courting activities at the surface in what is called a surface active group. Outside of this time, they seem to be relatively inactive at the surface, though this conclusion may simply be derived from the fact that there are far fewer North Atlantic right whales than there are other right whales.

The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered species of whale; hardly more than ten are believed to exist in the eastern North Atlantic, and only about 400 are believed to exist in the western North Atlantic, their numbers having been crippled in large part by whaling. North Atlantic right whales face great threats from injury and death caused by collisions with ships as well as becoming entangled in fishing gear and traps. Climate change also threatens the population, as the North Atlantic right whale fares best in a fairly static environment with stable resources.

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