The North Atlantic right whale is one of the world’s most endangered large whale species; the latest preliminary estimate suggests there are fewer than 350 remaining. Two other species of right whales exist: the North Pacific right whale, which is found in the North Pacific Ocean, and the Southern right whale, which is found in the southern hemisphere. Right whales are baleen whales, feeding on copepods (tiny crustaceans) by straining huge volumes of ocean water through their baleen plates, which act like a sieve.
By the early 1890s, commercial whalers had hunted right whales in the Atlantic to the brink of extinction. Whaling is no longer a threat, but human interactions still present the greatest danger to this species. Entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes are the leading causes of North Atlantic right whale mortality. Increasing ocean noise levels from human activities are also a concern since the noise may interfere with right whale communication and increase their stress levels.
NOAA Fisheries and our partners are dedicated to conserving and rebuilding the North Atlantic right whale population. We use a variety of innovative techniques to study, protect, and recover these endangered whales. We engage our partners, including the fishing and shipping industries, as we develop regulations and management plans that foster healthy fisheries and reduce the risk of entanglements, slow down vessel traffic, and reduce ocean noise.