Skip to main content
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, North American Mammals

  Cetacea · Balaenidae · Eubalaena glacialis

Search the Archive
 • Species Name
 • Family Tree
 • Conservaton Status
 • Skulls
 • Bones and Teeth
Field Guide
 • Map Search
   Including search by
     • Location
     • Ecoregion
     • Species
     • National Park
 • About Maps
Teacher Resources
About the Site
Smithsonian Institution
Copyright Notice
Privacy Notice

* PDF reader
available here

(opens in a new window)

Eubalaena glacialis

North Atlantic Right Whale

Order: Cetacea
Family: Balaenidae

Click to see adaptations.   
Image of Eubalaena glacialis
Eubalaena glacialis - adult whale with calf; inset upper left, spray pattern; inset upper right, shape of tail fluke upon diving
Click to enlarge. (49 kb)

Conservation Status: Endangered.

Northern right whales were hunted for at least 800 years, until they became so rare that it was no longer commercially viable to hunt them. Biology made them and southern right whales the "right" whales to hunt, especially when whaling was less sophisticated than it is today. They are absolutely massive, weighing up to 100 tons in a package less than 20 m long. Their bodies provide lots of oil and high quality baleen. They are slow swimmers, often found in coastal waters, and they float when killed, so they were easy to chase, kill, and tow to port. Now numbering only in the hundreds, and showing no signs of recovery, northern right whales are nearly extinct. Some populations have not shown any significant reproduction, even after becoming protected by law. Northern right whales live long lives: some animals have been studied for years and one was known to be at least 67 years old when she was seen in 1992. They skim-feed on small marine crustaceans.

The North Atlantic right whale differs in skin color from the North Pacific right whale and the cold waters of the Arctic Circle are a natural impediment to the mingling of these two groups.

Also known as:

Biscayan Right Whale


Average: 17 m
Range: up to 18 m


Range: 60,000-100,000kg


Linnaeus, C., 1758.  Systema Naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classis, ordines, genera, species cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tenth Edition, Laurentii Salvii, Stockholm, 1:75, 824 pp.


Mammal Species of the World (opens in a new window).

Distribution of Eubalaena glacialis

Image of Eubalaena glacialis
Click to enlarge. (199kb)

Skull of Eubalaena glacialis
Click to enlarge. (23kb)

end of text