The BIGGEST reason why Our Atlantic Coast needs Protection!
ESA Endangered - throughout its range
MMPA Depleted - throughout its range
CITES Appendix I - throughout its range
The North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica) and southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) are other species of right whale.
Weight: up to 70 tons (140,000 lbs; 63,500 kg)
Length: about 50 feet (15 m);
calves are about 14 feet (4.2 m) at birth
Appearance: stocky black body, with no dorsal fin, and callosities (raised patches of rough skin) on the head region
Lifespan: about 50 years, but there are few data on the longevity of right whales. There are indications that closely related species may live over 100 years.
Diet: zooplankton, including copepods, euphausiids, and cyprids
Behavior: Unlike other baleen whales, right whales are skimmers; they feed by removing prey from the water using baleen while moving with their mouth open through a patch of zooplankton.
Right whales are large baleen whales. Females are larger than males.
Distinguishing features include a stocky body, black coloration (although some have white patches on their bellies), no dorsal fin, a large head (about 1/4 of the body length), strongly bowed lower lip, and callosities (raised patches of roughened skin) on their head. Two rows of long--up to 8 feet (2.4 m)--dark baleen plates hang from their upper jaw, with about 225 plates on each side. Their tail is broad, deeply notched, and all black with a smooth trailing edge.
Females give birth to their first calf at about 10 years old. Gestation lasts approximately 1 year. Calves are usually weaned toward the end of their first year. In the coastal waters off Georgia and northern Florida, calving occurs from December through March. (All vessels 65 feet (19.8 m) or longer must travel at 10 knots or less in this area during this calving season to reduce the threat of ship collisions.)
It is believed that right whales live at least 50 years, but there are few data on the longevity of right whales. Using cross-sections of teeth is one way to age mammals, but, right whales have no teeth--only baleen. However, ear bones and, in some cases, eye lenses can be used to estimate age in right whales after they have died. There are indications that closely related species may live over 100 years.
Right whales generally feed from spring to fall, though, in certain areas, they may also feed in winter. Their primary food sources are zooplankton, including copepods, euphausiids, and cyprids. Unlike other baleen whales, right whales are skimmers; they feed by removing prey from the water using baleen while moving with their mouth open through a patch of zooplankton.
Most known right whale nursery areas are in shallow, coastal waters.
The International Whaling Commission This link is an external site. has identified four categories of right whale habitats:
with copepod and krill densities that routinely elicit feeding behavior and are visited seasonally
routinely used for calving and neonatal nursing
Nursery aggregation areas
where nursing females feed and suckle
where mating behavior occurs
however, breeding areas are not known for any population
Right whales have occurred historically in all the world's oceans from temperate to subpolar latitudes. They primarily occur in coastal or shelf waters, although movements over deep waters are known. Right whales migrate to higher latitudes during spring and summer.
NMFS designated critical habitat for the Eubalaena glacialis in 1994 (59 FR 28805). There are two critical habitat areas in the North Atlantic:
North Atlantic right whales inhabit the Atlantic Ocean, particularly between 20° and 60° latitude.
For much of the year, their distribution is strongly correlated to the distribution of their prey. During winter, right whales occur in lower latitudes and coastal waters where calving takes place. However, the whereabouts of much of the population during winter remains unknown.
The majority of the western North Atlantic population range from wintering and calving areas in coastal waters off the southeastern United States to summer feeding and nursery grounds in New England waters and north to the Bay of Fundy and Scotian Shelf. NMFS identified five "areas of high use" that are key habitat areas for right whales:
Coastal Florida and Georgia
Great South Channel
Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod Bay
Bay of Fundy
The eastern North Atlantic population may originally have migrated along the coast from northern Europe to the northwest coast of Africa. Historic records suggest that animals were heavily exploited by whalers from the Bay of Biscay off southern Europe and Cintra Bay off the northwestern coast of Africa, as well as off coastal Iceland and the British Isles. During the early to mid 1900s, right whales were intensely harvested in the Shetlands, Hebrides, and Ireland. Recent surveys suggest right whales no longer frequent Cintra Bay or northern European waters. Due to a lack of sightings, current distribution and migration patterns of the eastern North Atlantic right whale population are unknown.
It is believed the western North Atlantic population numbers about 400 individual right whales. Recent analysis of sightings data suggests a slight growth in population size, however, North Atlantic right whales remain critically endangered. Read the latest stock assessment report for more information on the right whale population in the western North Atlantic.
Although precise estimates of abundance are not available for the eastern North Atlantic right whales, the population is nearly extinct, probably only numbering in the low tens of animals. It is unclear whether right whales found in the eastern North Atlantic represent a "relict" population or whether all or some of these whales are individuals from the known western North Atlantic population.
The most common human causes of serious injury and mortality of western North Atlantic right whales are:
Active Mandatory 10-knot Speed Zones (SMAs)
» Cape Cod Bay:
Jan 1-May 15, annually
» Off Race Point:
Mar 1-Apr 30, annually
Northeast SMA map
Nov 1-Apr 30, annually
Mid-Atlantic SMA map
Nov 15-April 15, annually
Southeast SMA map
Voluntary 10-knot Speed Zones (DMAs)*
South of Cape Cod DMA, in effect through 03/20/2014
South of Cape Cod DMA map
Nantucket DMA, in effect through 03/16/2014
Nantucket DMA map
*Mariners are requested, but not required, to either avoid DMAs or travel through them at 10 knots or less.
entanglement in fishing gear
Additional threats include:
climate and ecosystem change
disturbance from whale-watching activities
noise from industrial activities
They also face natural threats from predators, such as large sharks and killer whales, which may affect the population.
Right whales were first protected by the 1931 Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which took effect in 1935. However, neither Japan nor the Soviet Union signed this agreement, so they were theoretically free to kill right whales.
In 1949, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling This link is an external site. protected right whales from commercial whaling.
In U.S. waters, right whales were determined to be in danger of extinction in all or a significant portion of their range due to commercial over-utilization. As a result, they were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Conservation Act in June 1970, the precursor to the ESA. The species was subsequently listed as endangered under the ESA in 1973 and, thus, designated as "depleted" under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).
In 2008, NMFS listed the endangered northern right whale (Eubalaena spp.) as two separate, endangered species: the North Pacific right whale (E. japonica) and North Atlantic right whale (E. glacialis) (73 FR 12024).
NMFS has taken both regulatory and non-regulatory steps to reduce the threat of ship collisions, including:
Mandatory vessel speed restrictions in Seasonal Management Areas
Voluntary speed reductions in Dynamic Management Areas
Recommended shipping routes and in an Area To Be Avoided
Modification of international shipping lanes
Aircraft surveys and right whale alerts
Mandatory Ship Reporting Systems
Outreach and Education
More information on ship strike reduction efforts is available on our website.
To address entanglement in fishing gear, NMFS established the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team. This team developed a plan to reduce the incidental serious injury and mortality of right whales, as well as humpback, fin, and minke whales in the South Atlantic shark gillnet fishery, the Gulf of Maine and Mid-Atlantic lobster trap/pot fishery, the Mid-Atlantic gillnet fishery, and the Gulf of Maine sink gillnet fishery.
Federal law [pdf] and Massachusetts state law This link is an external site. prohibit approaching a right whale closer than 500 yards unless permitted by NMFS or unless one of the limited exemptions applies.
Northern Right Whale Recovery Plan (1991):
The Northern Right Whale Recovery Team was appointed in July 1987. A Draft Recovery Plan for the Northern Right Whale (including both the North Atlantic and North Pacific right whales) was distributed for public comment in February 1990. Comments were received from Federal, state and local governments, conservation organizations, and private individuals. Appropriate comments were incorporated into the plan.
In December 1991, NMFS approved the Final Recovery Plan for the Northern Right Whale (including both the North Atlantic and North Pacific right whales). It identified known and potential factors affecting the right whale and recommended actions to reduce or eliminate impacts to the species.
NMFS published a revised recovery plan [pdf] in 2005 for right whales in the North Atlantic. (NMFS pblished a draft recovery plan for the North Pacific right whale in January 2013.)
The ultimate goal of the plan is to recover the species, with an interim goal of down-listing their status from "endangered" to "threatened."
Kids' Times: right whale
The Kids' Times: Right Whale [pdf]
North Atlantic right whale breaching
North Atlantic Right Whale
Credit: Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GADNR), Permit 15488
Northern right whales
North Atlantic Right Whales
aerial view of right whale with a v-shaped blow
North Atlantic Right Whale
Credit: NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center
The major actions recommended in the plan are:
Reduce or eliminate injury or mortality caused by ship collision
Reduce or eliminate injury and mortality caused by fisheries and fishing gear
Protect habitats essential to the survival and recovery of the species
Minimize effects of vessel disturbance
Continue international ban on hunting and other directed take
Monitor the population size and trends in abundance of the species
Maximize efforts to free entangled or stranded right whales and acquire scientific information from dead specimens
The North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 1973. It was originally listed as the "northern right whale" as endangered under the Endangered Species Conservation Act, the precursor to the ESA, in June 1970. The species is also designated as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).
NMFS designated critical habitat for the Eubalaena glacialis in 1994 (59 FR 28805).
NMFS established regulations to reduce the likelihood of deaths and serious injuries from ship collisions to endangered North Atlantic right whales. All vessels 65 ft (19.8 m) or longer must travel at 10 knots or less in certain locations along the east coast of the U.S. at certain times of year.
In 2008, NMFS listed the endangered "northern right whale" (Eubalaena spp.) as two separate, endangered species: the North Pacific right whale (E. japonica) and North Atlantic right whale (E. glacialis) (73 FR 12024).
Nags Head Bottlenose dolphins are well known as the intelligent and charismatic stars of many aquarium shows. Their curved mouths give the appearance of a friendly, permanent smile, and they can be trained to perform complex tricks.
In the wild, these sleek swimmers can reach speeds of over 18 miles (30 kilometers) an hour. They surface often to breathe, doing so two or three times a minute. Bottlenose dolphins travel in social groups and communicate with each other by a complex system of squeaks and whistles. Schools have been known to come to the aid of an injured dolphin and help it to the surface.
Nags Head Bottlenose dolphins track their prey through the expert use of echolocation. They can make up to 1,000 clicking noises per second. These sounds travel underwater until they encounter objects, then bounce back to their dolphin senders, revealing the location, size, and shape of their target.
When dolphins are feeding, that target is often a bottom-dwelling fish, though they also eat shrimp and squid. These clever animals are also sometimes spotted following fishing boats in hopes of dining on leftovers.
Bottlenose dolphins are found in tropical oceans and other warm waters around the globe. They were once widely hunted for meat and oil (used for lamps and cooking), but today only limited dolphin fishing occurs. However, dolphins are threatened by commercial fishing for other species, like tuna, and can become mortally entangled in nets and other fishing equipment.
North Carolina Reefs?
You might have heard of the dozens of artificial reefs the State has created, but did you know that North Caroling is home to some of the world's rarest, most ususual reefs?
North Carolina Reef Systems
Ann Marie D. Necaise
Steve W. Ross, PhD
North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve
Most people associate coral reef systems with tropical islands and warm, shallow waters. It may be surprising to learn that two unique types of reef systems exist off the coast of North Carolina. One serves as an important habitat for several species of commercially and recreationally important fishes, while the other represents a rare, deep-water coral reef. The first is found on the shelf edge, approximately 75 miles offshore, and we refer to this system of reefs as the “Outer Shelf Reefs." The second reef system is located further offshore (50 to 100 mi) and is known as the “Lophelia Coral Banks," named after the coral species that makes up this system of reefs. Each of these systems is important to a diverse assortment of fishes and invertebrates.
The Outer Shelf Reefs
The Outer Shelf Reefs are found at depths between 50-200 m along the edge of the continental shelf. They serve as oases for fish and invertebrates in the otherwise barren landscape of the open ocean, providing protection from predators and abundant food resources. Remarkably, in only a few dives on this reef system to date, scientists have discovered five species of fish not previously reported from the United States, and nine species not previously reported from North Carolina.
One unusual species found on these reefs was the red lionfish (Pterois volitans). The red lionfish is native to Pacific waters, ranging from southern Japan to Australia and throughout Indonesia, Micronesia and French Polynesia. Within recent years, however, sightings of this species have occurred in the western Atlantic from Bermuda to New York. During the 2002 "Islands in the Stream" Ocean Explorer mission, our scientists observed a total of 14 red lionfish on the Outer Shelf Reefs. These observations were made over a relatively small area, suggesting that actual numbers may be higher than those observed, and that the species may be establishing itself in North Carolina waters.
Species just as colorful and diverse as those found on tropical reefs, such as the short bigeye (Pristigenys alta), bank butterfly fish (Chaetodon aya), blue angelfish (Holacanthus bermudensis), sharpnose puffer (Canthigaster rostrata), red barbier (Hemanthias vivanus) and spinycheek soldierfish (Corniger spinosus) are often sighted here. The larvae and juveniles of many of these species become entrained in the Gulf Stream over reef systems further south, and are carried northward to habitats off North Carolina.
Cryptic fishes -- those with skin color and patterns that blend into the background environment -- are also found in and around the Outer Shelf Reefs. Species such as the Gulf Stream flounder (Citharichthys arctifrons), offshore lizardfish (Synodus poeyi), diamond lizardfish (Synodus synodus) and American sand lance (Ammodytes americanus) bury themselves in the sediment surrounding these reefs. The mottled pigment patterns of their skin blend in with the sandy bottom, making detection by predators difficult.
Since large aggregations of fish are associated with the Outer Shelf Reefs, this area is well known to commercial and recreational fishermen. Commercially and recreationally important species, such as gag (Mycteroperca microlepis), scamp (Mycteroperca phenax), yellowedge grouper (Epinephelus flavolimbatus), snowy grouper (Epinephelus niveatus), grunts (Haemulon aurolineatum and H. striatum) and snappers (Lutjanidae) utilize these habitats.
Several species within this reef system are severely overfished or in danger of being so. Hence, fisheries resource managers are considering designating portions of the Outer Shelf Reef habitats as marine protected areas, which could help rebuild stocks. Part of the 2003 cruise mission is to determine species composition and abundance within these habitats, data which may ultimately help marine resource managers prioritize areas for protection.
Lophelia Coral Banks
The Lophelia Coral Banks are located in water depths greater than 300 m, past the edge of the continental shelf. Surprisingly, these coral reefs thrive in complete darkness and temperatures averaging 10° C (50° F), waters much colder than those of tropical reef systems. Additionally, the Lophelia corals grow without the aid of symbiotic algae, resulting in an exceptionally slow growth rate. Nevertheless, over thousands of years, they can attain massive sizes, rising 10 m or more over the bottom of the ocean and spreading out for hundreds of meters. Like the Outer Shelf Reef systems, these coral banks provide important habitat in the featureless environment of the open ocean bottom.
The Lophelia Coral Banks located off Cape Lookout, NC, may be the northernmost deep-water coral banks along the U.S. East Coast. Due to their depth and the fragile nature of coral habitats, traditional research sampling methods cannot be used in these areas. Because conventional sampling gear, such as otter trawls or benthic dredges, are too destructive and damaging to use in slow-growing coral systems, these habitats and their fauna have been poorly studied until recently. Through the use of submersibles, however, observations and selective samples can now be taken without causing unnecessary damage to the environment. As a result, recent research cruises in this area, including the 2002 Islands in the Stream Ocean Explorer mission, have provided valuable information about species diversity and abundance as well as animal behavior in these deep-water habitats.
These coral banks are populated by a unique combination of deep-water reef fishes, as well as shelf, midwater and deep ocean fishes. Unusual fishes, such as the longnose batfish (Ogocephalus corniger), Atlantic batfish (Dibranchus atlanticus), conger eel (Conger oceanicus) and skates (Breviraja plutonia and B. spinosa) are commonly found in this habitat. Deep- sea fishes, such as the blackbelly rosefish (Helicolenus dactylopterus), longfin hake (Phycis chesteri), spotted codling (Urophycis regia), greeneye
(Chlorophthalmus agassizi) and deep-water scorpionfish (Setarches guentheri) are also collected in large numbers in and around this habitat. Our scientists have also observed bright red alphonsins (Beryx splendens) and large wreckfish (Polyprion americanus) moving in and around the coral. Midwater fishes, such as the lanternfishes (Myctophidae) and hatchetfish (Sternoptyx diaphana), migrate daily between this bottom habitat and the upper layers of the ocean, providing an interesting link between surface and deep-sea communities.
With this mission, exploration of the unique reef systems found off North Carolina will continue where they left off last year. The possibility of discovering new species and range extensions exists with each visit to these areas, as does the opportunity to gain new information about community structure, feeding relationships and reproduction. The information obtained through sampling and observation while at sea this August, as well as the follow-up studies conducted back in the laboratory, will continue to add to our understanding of these unique habitats.