Right Whale is
on the edge of extinction, scientists say.
A very small
number were seen during the winter of 1998
off the coasts of
Georgia and Florida in the US.
Only two mothers and their
spotted during the
breeding season. Normally, several pairs of mothers with
calves are seen, together with other
single whales. Last
year more than twenty visited the Georgia and Florida area.
"It's very scary," says Chris Slay of the New England
tracks whales. "Worldwide we
believe that there are
fewer than 400 Northern Right Whales."
These whales, which
are found in the North Atlantic Ocean,
are slow moving and
shallow waters. They became
known as the ‘right’ whale to kill during
This was because they were easy
to harpoon and floated for a
long time after death. Their mouths contain huge plates of
baleen that whalers called ‘whalebone’. They used it to make
umbrella ribs, corsets,
hoops in ladies dresses and
The rest of the whale was mostly
turned into oil.
Adult Right Whales can grow to almost 18 metres long, and
weigh up to 90 tonnes. They eat very small
filtering them with their baleen.
huge size, the whales' throats are so narrow
are unable to swallow something the size of an
orange. Their heads are covered in white growths called ‘callosities’.
Researchers use these distinctive
patches to recognise
decline in whale numbers was during the 1800s.
Whaling reduced the population from tens of thousands, to
just a few hundred. Although protected by US law since 1935,
the number of Right Whales has hardly changed
Most Right Whales die from accidents with ships. The area of
the sea where the whales
give birth is now also one of the
busiest shipping areas on the Florida coast. Nuclear
submarines even use the area. Right Whales
have no fin on
back, so they are very difficult to see. From a ship,
only the flat of the whale's back is visible. But no whales
have been killed in this way for two years, so this is not
the only cause of their falling numbers.
Researchers say that the unusual weather caused by the 'El
Niño' weather system is partly
to blame for the
whale sightings. They think that it disturbs the deep ocean
currents and so makes it more difficult for the whales to
find food and each other. Scientists say that the next
mating season will be the last chance for the Northern Right