The right whales, genus Eubalaena, obtained their common name from early whalers, as they were considered the ‘right’ whales to hunt. Consequently they now represent some of the rarest whale species found in our oceans. Right whales are members of the baleen group of whales, which are distinguished by the possession of baleen plates instead of teeth (4). The North Pacific right whale is a giant, growing to over 18 metres in length, and probably in excess of 80 tons in weight (2) (5). In common with other Balaenidae species, the head of the North Pacific right whale can take up to one third of the body length, and appears almost disproportionately large (6). Other consistent features of right whales include the fusion of the seven neck vertebrae into a single mass, and the possession of hardened layers of skin, which are usually covered in whale lice on the head, lips and chin, and are called callosities (4). The body of the North Pacific right whale is broad and robust, with large, wide pectoral flippers, while the upper jaw forms an arch, from which the large, slender baleen plates hang (4) (6). The North Pacific right whale is usually black, often with white ventral patches or a mottled appearance (6).
The North Pacific right whale has only recently been given full species status, as it was previously described as conspecific with the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), and was assigned subspecies status, with the name Eubalaena glacialis japonica. However, recent genetic analysis has provided convincing evidence that the North Pacific right whale is a distinct species (7).
- Head-body length: 13.5 – 18 m (2)
- 40 – 80 tons (2)