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Home / News / General / Hawaii’s cetaceans

Hawaii’s cetaceans

By: Denver Leaman

Northern Right Whale

Northern Right Whale (Eubalaena glcialis)
Suborder: Mysticeti Family: Balaenidae
Sighted near Maui in 1979.

Other known names:

Biscayan Right whale, Black Right whale

General description and habits:

The Northern right whale is mostly black, with 'callosities' on the head. These are horny growths on which 'whale lice' live. The lice are actually small parasitic crustaceans, and are pale yellow, orange and pink in color. Whale watchers can tell whales apart by using these light shapes and patterns that grow differently on each animal. The species has a very heavy and round body, which is mostly black with white blotches on the belly. Their huge flippers have small ridges running down them, which are the whale's 'finger' bones. These whales reach 11 - 18 meters and 30 - 80 tons when adult, and are 4.5 - 6 meters and about 1 ton when born. These large animals swim slowly, yet are surprisingly acrobatic. They breach and slap their flippers against the water when rolling over. They have also been seen to do 'headstands' where they wave their tail in the air for up to 2 minutes. These are playful and curious animals, and will poke and bump objects they find in the water. They may swim up to boats, or let boats approach them.

Identity Keys to use in the field:

Rotund body, Callosities on large head, Strongly arched mouth line, Large dark chin, Two blowholes, Black or dark gray color, Lighter under-side, No fin, Highly acrobatic, May approach boats, Slow deliberate swimmer, Long broad flippers


Krill and/or other crustaceans


Northern right whales live only in the Northern Hemisphere and never mix with Southern right whales. The vast majority of them are found in the Western North Atlantic, off the coasts of Canada and North America. Only a few individuals are also thought to remain in the Eastern North Atlantic and North Pacific.

Population estimates:

The northern right whale is the most endangered of the great whales - their worldwide population is estimated at less than 320. Right whales are so-named because whalers considered them the 'right' whales to hunt - they are easy to approach and catch, float when dead and have a lot of oil in the cells of their blubber. This oil was known as 'liquid gold' in the whaling industry. It could be sold for making many things including soap, shampoo, lipstick, paints, and as oil for burning in candles and lamps.


Habitat loss, Human disturbance, Entanglement in fishing gear, Collisions with ships.

Interesting facts:

Right whales have two blowholes, so when they exhale, they produce a V-shaped spout which can be up to 5 meters high. You may hear the beautiful sound of a herd moaning and bellowing if you listen out at night around the breeding areas. On average, right whales reach sexual maturity at about 10 years of age, although some females have their first calf earlier than this. They give birth to a single calf after an estimated gestation period of 12 months, and there will probably be a gap of three to four years before they have another. Male right whales have the largest testes in the world; each pair weighs about 1 tonne, the same weight as a newborn right whale. Like all whales, right whale mothers are very protective of their young and will often swim on their back, cradling their new calf on their belly, cuddling it with their huge flippers, just like a human mother.

Hawaii’s cetaceans
  • Humpback whales
  • Striped Dolphin
  • Spinner Dolphin
  • Baird’s Beaked Whale
  • Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin
  • Blainville's Beaked Whale
  • Bryde's Whale
  • Cuvier's Beaked Whale
  • Dwarf Sperm Whale
  • False Killer Whale
  • Fin Whale
  • Killer Whale
  • Melon-headed Whale
  • Minke Whale
  • Northern Right Whale
  • Pygmy Killer Whale
  • Pygmy Sperm Whale
  • Risso's Dolphin
  • Rough-toothed Dolphin
  • Short-finned Pilot Whale
  • Sperm Whale
  • Spotted Dolphin



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