Right Whales - Bay of Fundy

Distinctive Features of North Atlantic Right Whales: 

  • Right Whales can be identified from a distance by the shape of the blow or spout which is bushy and appears "V" shaped when seen head-on, and can be 5 m (16') high. 
  • Adult right whales are medium sized, robust whales, 14-17 m (45-55') long and can weigh up to 100 tonnes. Calves are 6-7 m (20-25') long. 
  • Right whales have dark gray or black skin. 
  • The head is long and narrow (1/4 of the body length). 
  • The back is broad and right whales do not have a dorsal fin or ridge. 
  • On the head there are patches of raised and roughened skin (called callosities) that appear white. These features are unique to each whale and photographs of the callosities are used by researchers to identify and recognize individual right whales. 
  • The tail flukes are often lifted vertically when the animal dives. The tail, black with smooth edges and a deep notch in the middle of the rear margin, can be up to 6 m (20') wide. 
  • Flippers are broad and short (up to 1.7 m or 5.5' long), shaped like a rectangle. 
  • Right Whales come together in groups of 5 to 30 animals for vigorous social activity at the surface. These groups are usually made up of a single female and several males and involve tail and flipper slaps. They can be identified at a distance by the large number of frequent spouts and white-water. During this behaviour, right whales are not aware of ships.
Status: The North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) is the rarest of the large whales in the world. Current estimates indicate that no more than 350 survive along the east coast of North America. 
Sightings have been reported from the Gulf of Mexico to Iceland, but most of the population now is distributed between Nova Scotia and Florida. Major concentrations of right whales have been documented in the Bay of Fundy and in Roseway Basin (between Browns and Baccaro Banks on the southern Scotian Shelf) from early summer to late autumn.
This whale was given its name by the whalers who considered it the 'right whale' to hunt because these whales were relatively easy to approach and floated after death. Right whales were hunted to very low numbers by the late 1800s and although protected from commercial whaling since 1935, the population has not recovered. One factor is right whale mortality resulting from collisions with ships. Right whales are slow swimmers, seldom moving faster than 3-5 knots. They may stay submerged for 15 to 20 minutes when feeding on plankton. Because a right whale or group of right whales frequently spend periods lying at the surface, they are vulnerable to collisions with ships. 
Ships operating in the right whale conservation areas in the Bay of Fundy and Roseway Basin should ask all watches to keep a lookout for right whales. During night-time and other periods of reduce visibility, vessel operators should use the slowest safe speed to reduce the risk of collision with right whales. Despite all precautions, collisions may still occur. Please report all sightings and collisions to the appropriate authority listed inside. The information you provide is important in monitoring the population and will be held in confidence. Thank you for your cooperation.
The North Atlantic right whale is protected from disturbance and injury by the Marine Mammal Regulations of the Fisheries Act (R.S.C., 1985, c.F.-14. Amended 1993) which prohibits the disturbance of marine mammals. Disturbance includes repeated attempts to pursue, disperse and herd whales and any repeated intentional act of negligence resulting in the disruption of their normal behaviour. Disturbing right whales could change and interfere with their behaviour, force them away from their habitat at critical times and may cause them injury.
Right Whale Identification: Right whales are the most endangered baleen whale. The western North Atlantic right whale identification project operates each year in the Bay of Fundy from August through early October, coordinated by the New England Aquarium (NEA), Boston, MA. NEA have a field station in Lubec, ME, and travel to the Grand Manan Basin by boat each day the weather is fit. The Grand Manan Basin is an area of deep water between Grand Manan Island and Nova Scotia. The project has operated continuously since 1980 in the Bay, the same year right whales were officially recognized as summer residents. Earlier sightings in the 1970s were discounted because of the extremely low numbers of right whales believed to be left in the North Atlantic, but the 1980 sightings confirmed the presence of right whales in the Bay of Fundy. The primary surveys were August through early October since this was the most reliable time when right whales could be found in the Bay. In conjuction, surveys were also conducted in the Roseway Basin area off the coast of Nova Scotia. However, since about 1992, right whales now arrive in the Bay as early as June and stay until late November and into December, with as many as two thirds of the western North Atlantic population visiting in a season. Few right whales now occur in the Roseway Basin area. To cover the times when the New England Aquarium crew is unavailable, photographs have been taken from whale watch vessels (from both Grand Manan and Nova Scotia) as early as the beginning of June. Recently aerial surveys have been conducted by East Coast Ecosytems in the late fall and early winter. To cover the cost of film used by our researchers aboard whale watch vessels, some of the financial contributions to the GMWSRS Whale Conservation Fund are being used.

Right whales can be individually identified by craggy, cornified patches on their heads called callosities, located where we have facial hair - chin, eyebrows and moustache. Each whale has a unique pattern of callosities. As well, scars and other markings may help in the identification. While the callosities may change slightly over the years, callosities are a reliable feature for identification. Over 350 individual right whales have been identified in the western North Atlantic - unfortunately this probably represents the entire population. New born calves born in Georgia/Florida waters, can not be identified by callosities because the patches have not yet developed. The Bay of Fundy is one of the nurseries for right whale calves. By the time the calves and mothers arrive in the Bay, the callosity patterns have developed. Photographing the calves in the summer is critical to their continued individual identification and identifying their maternal relationship.

In 2000 right whale catalogues were provided to all of the whale watching companies on Grand Manan, funded by the Whale Conservation Fund.  In 2003, digital versions of the catalogue was distributed to the above plus the local community school, Grand Manan Museum and Visitor Informaiton Centre.

More on right whale conservation and specifically:

Right Whale Conservation Zones 

Whale Disentanglement Network
New Brunswick Stranding Network
Right Whale Recovery Plan
North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium
This page designed by
Page revised Jan 28 2004
GMWSRS 24 Route 776, Grand Manan, NB, Canada E5G 1A1

© Grand Manan Whale & Seabird Research Station Inc.