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Endangered species: The North Atlantic right whale

North Atlantic right whale mother and calf. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

North Atlantic right whale mother and calf. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, August 14, 2013, 6:56 PM -

Endangered Species is an ongoing series at theweathernetwork.com. We're taking an in-depth look at our changing planet and how it is affecting plants, mammals, reptiles and insects. Today, we're looking at the North Atlantic right whale, an endangered species with Canadian roots.

This article is from WWF Canada. Images sourced by The Weather Network.

Scientific Name: Eubalaena glacialis

Length: 18 metres 

Weight: 50-70 tonnes

Speed: 8km/h

Location: Atlantic Ocean along the North American coast. Migrate between rich feeding grounds in northern waters (including critical habitats in Grand Manan and Roseway Basins off Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Cape Cod Bay and the Great South Channel) and calving grounds in southern waters off Florida and Georgia. 


SARA: Endangered IUCN: Endangered

Population: 450 individuals

Untangling the right whale

Over 70% of North Atlantic right whales bear scars from being entangled in fishing gear. Severe entanglements may lead to death. With only 450 whales left, WWF's work with fishermen and scientists is crucial to saving these magnificent creatures.

WWF's work

For almost 20 years, WWF has been involved in right whale protection. The population is now rebounding but they are still endangered due to current human activities. Our work must focus on the dangers that cause great suffering and often death - entanglements in fishing gear.

WWF is bringing together those who can save the right whale - fishermen and scientists. Nobody wants to lose these beautiful animals and WWF is providing the industry a forum for building solutions.

Progress is already being made. Lobster fishermen along Nova Scotia’s south shore have voluntarily implemented practices to reduce entanglement. Watch this video to see what they've done:

Did you know?

Once headed for extinction, right whales experienced a baby boom in 2009, with 39 calves born. This is the largest number of calves ever recorded by scientists!

Model of the right whale, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington (Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

Model of the right whale, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington (Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

A valuable commodity during the whaling era, the species gets its name from early whalers, who considered it to be the "right" whale to hunt. Their slower pace, proximity to land, tendency to float after being killed and their "productivity" in terms of oil made them lucrative animals to target. One whale could provide up to 70 barrels of oil for lamps and machine lubrication, and their long baleen (teeth) were used to make things like bed springs, buggy whips and the stays in corsets.

Once thought to number between 5,000 and 10,000, by the late 1880s they had been hunted to near extinction.

Today they face other dangers – particularly from vessel collisions and entanglement in fishing gear. With only 450 remaining in the world, they need protection now or they will be lost forever.

WWF-Canada’s work on the conservation of North Atlantic right whales is supported by the Government of Canada Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk, CSL Group Inc., Fred and Elizabeth Fountain and the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

What you can do to help

  • Donate to WWF conservation efforts
  • When you buy seafood, choose products with the MSC eco label. If they are not available, ask for them.
  • Learn more at wwf.ca.

Next week, we'll learn how the Toronto Zoo is helping to conserve - and repopulate - endangered populations across the globe.

Endangered Species: The African lion
Endangered Species: The polar bear
Endangered Species: Orangutans, the intelligent primate
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