Right Whales – The Rarest Of All Large Whales
by: Davis Yancy Clegg
There’s one thing I’ve learned when it comes to the creatures of the ocean these giants of the ocean are very interesting to me. A few years back, I was renting a great little beach house on the north end of Amelia Island. I was only one street away from living on the beach and I intended to make proper use of that amenity! I was out one morning for a run on the beach when I came upon a beached whale. I had never been so close to a creature so massive. He was an unlucky grey whale that had gotten too shallow – unable to make it back out to deep waters – and passed. The experience left me curious as to how something like that could have happened. A beached whale is pretty much a doomed whale if not found quickly. They die in certain cases due to an array of reasons. They can parish from dehydration, collapsing under their own body weight, or more commonly drown from the tide pushing in and blocking their blowhole. After such an encounter, I became quite interested in learning more about the different species of whales and characteristics of these rare marvels of aquatic life. Given that right whales are an inhabitant of our local waters, it seemed fitting to explore them and educate myself a little bit.
Right whales – particularly the North Atlantic right whale – are one of the rarest of all marine animals. These guys have two distinct populations – western and eastern. Unfortunately, like many species such as sharks, they are over fished due to commercial fishing operations. The North Atlantic right whale is a very large species. They get up to around 50 ft. long and weigh up to 14,000lbs. That is a big ole’ fish friends. They have a very stocky build and their bodies are primarily black with rough patches of skin on their head. The name, “Right” whale, struck my curiosity right off the bat. Why call them that? Well, when whaling was in its hay day and fishermen were coming out of the woodwork to make a buck, they found that this species of whale is particularly docile and spends the majority of its time near shorelines in the shallows. Along with their timid behavior and easy to find traits, the right whale is one which is very high in Blubber content. Since the oil from their blubber is one of the main commercial demands, these guys where the obvious – “Right” – choice for fisherman all over. To make things even easier, the higher blubber content these whales carry causes them to float when killed.
Since the diet of the right whales mainly consists of plankton and krill, they take in very large amounts of water and then filter out the prey with nutritional using their baleen plates. Each side of the whales’ mouth holds somewhere in the neighborhood of 225 of these plates. They can be up to 8ft in length each! During their typical feeding times, these guys can take in more than 2600 pounds of zooplankton! That’s over a ton of food. Hopefully there is an abundance of zooplankton in no risk of a shortage. As of now, there are around 400 individuals in the population of the western North Atlantic. In that area, there have been some sightings that indicate there may be a slight increase in the right whale population. However, they are still critically endangered due to the demand for the products created from their blubber. The range of migration for the western population ranges from Nova Scotia to the southeastern United States. It’s a lot of area to cover and this species are fated to be very slow swimmers. They average around just 6 mph. Shallow dives in brief succession are your best chance to catch a glimpse of them as travel. They will submerge for up to 20 minutes usually when travelling a long distance and are usually in very small groups, if not solo. When in their groups, they will communicate amongst themselves by emitting a very low frequency sound. It is my hope that their communication has not only reach their aquatic comrades, but you all as well. Let’s keep the awareness up and the waters thriving!
There was a recent sighting of a right whale with her baby in our area.
Join us on the Beach Creek Tour, you never know we might see one. At any rate most likely you will be greeted by many of the local dolphins.