A friendly, amicable giant closes in to investigate a group of people on a small fishing craft. The huge creature perches itself right against the boat allowing the occupants to rub its head in a mutual gesture of openness. All throughout the world these scenes are being repeated as Right Whales live up to their social billing.
The Story Of The Many Species
Rights whales are actually three separate species of whales lumped together. These three species are the North Atlantic Right Whale, the Southern Right Whale and the North Pacific Right Whale. The Bowhead whale is considered by some to be part of the Right Whale group however this whale is discussed separately in another post.
According to Wikipedia, genetic testing of the right whales suggest that the northern and southern species stopped interbreeding somewhere between 12 and three million years ago. In an interesting twist it has been recently discovered that the North Pacific Right Whale is more closely related to the Southern Right Whale and not the North Atlantic Right Whale as had been expected.
Right Whale, Wrong Characteristics
Unfortunately, the nomenclature of the Right whale has bad connotations. They were named this because they were friendly, swam close to shore, moved slowly (not more than six knots) and floated when killed. This made them the ideal or ‘right whale’ to hunt.
The Right Profile
Right Whales are very bulky in comparison to the sleek profiles of other whales. This is created by a huge amount of blubber which has been calculated to be 40 per cent, or more, of their total body weight. It is this huge amount of fat that makes these whales float.
The whales need such large amounts of blubber to keep their bodies insulated from cold waters. White lice are found in patches throughout their head resulting in callosities which are coarse areas of skin.
With testicles weighing up to one metric tonne (500 kilogrammes each) these animals have the largest gonads of any creature.
Right Whales are baleen whales and have baleen plates that can be over two metres in length (six feet). (Baleen is a system of hairs that some whales use for feeding.) They have between 200 and 300 of these baleen plates which filter their food.
Right Whales feed almost exclusively on zooplankton such as krill. They use their baleen plates to filter out the water leaving the prey to be eaten.
Threats To Rights
There are only two predators to right whales, Orcas (Killer Whales) and people. Unfortunately for these whales, their natural behaviour and large amount of blubber meant that they were ideal for whaling. Despite the world-wide ban on the whaling of Right Whales in 1937 due to their decimation, illegal hunting continued and several thousand whales were killed.
Watching The Rights
Nowadays, hunting of these whales by people is been replaced by whale watching. The same behavioural characteristics that made them easy to hunt makes them the perfect subjects for whale watchers. Many countries now make substantial sums of money from Right Whale watching tourism. Brazil and South Africa are two of the leading exponents of this new type of commerce.
This new departure paves the way for better relations between people and our mammalian cousins.
- Right Whales are up to 18 metres in length (60 feet).
- They can weigh up to 92 metric tonnes (100 short tons).
- It is believed that Right Whales can be 70 years old or more.
- They are found in the North and South Atlantic, the Arctic and North Pacific.
Check out Yellow Magpie’s The Whales: Kings Of The Cetaceans, Fin Whale: The Giant Speedster Of The Oceans and Dolphin: Our Love Affair With Our Favourite Cetacean for further insight into Whales and their cetacean cousins.
Among Giants: A Life With Whales is the fascinating story of underwater photographer, Charles ‘Flip’ Nicklin. Full of stunning pictures and insightful commentary about the whales this book is stunning.
You can obtain Among Giants: A Life with Whales here from Amazon.
For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom, you can access: Among Giants: A Life with Whales from here.
For Canada: Among Giants: A Life with Whales.
For Germany: Among Giants: A Life with Whales.
For France: Among Giants: A Life with Whales.