Skip to content
All articles
  • All articles
  • About whales & dolphins
  • Create healthy seas
  • End captivity
  • Green Whale
  • Prevent deaths in nets
  • Scottish Dolphin Centre
  • Stop whaling
WDC team at UN Ocean conference

Give the ocean a chance – our message from the UN Ocean Conference

I'm looking out over the River Tejo in Lisbon, Portugal, reflecting on the astounding resilience...
We need whale poo ? WDC NA

Whales are our climate allies – meet the scientists busy proving it

At Whale and Dolphin Conservation, we're working hard to bring whales and the ocean into...
Humpback whale underwater

Climate giants – how whales can help save the world

We know that whales, dolphins and porpoises are amazing beings with complex social and family...
Black Sea common dolphins © Elena Gladilina

The dolphin and porpoise casualties of the war in Ukraine

Rare, threatened subspecies of dolphins and porpoises live in the Black Sea along Ukraine's coast....
Minke whale © Ursula Tscherter - ORES

The whale trappers are back with their cruel experiment

Anyone walking past my window might have heard my groan of disbelief at the news...
Boto © Fernando Trujillo

Meet the legendary pink river dolphins

Botos don't look or live like other dolphins. Flamingo-pink all over with super-skinny snouts and...
Risso's dolphin entangled in fishing line and plastic bags - Andrew Sutton

The ocean is awash with plastic – can we ever clean it up?

You've seen pictures of plastic litter accumulating on beaches or marine wildlife swimming through floating...
Fin whale

Is this the beginning of the end for whaling off Iceland?

I'm feeling cautiously optimistic after Iceland's Fisheries Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir wrote that there is little...

Saving North Atlantic right whale habitats means saving the whales

PART 1

Over the years, I have watched North Atlantic right whales skim along the surface feeding on copepods, nudge each other in what seemed like play, and charge toward an inverted female attempting to mate.

All of these things happen in relatively predictable places and times of year.  Right whale habitats.

 I’ll never forget sailing out on a rainy summer day off southern Nova Scotia. Seas were choppy, and we’d resigned ourselves to a fog wetter than rain. Yet, after 5 or 6 hours of steady sailing straight out into the open sea, the sun came out, the sea calmed and we were suddenly in the midst of 30 right whales. This was Roseway Basin, a courtship area favored by the whales, which was in the middle of nowhere as far as I could determine. As we watched the whales play their courtship games, I was struck by the precision of the skipper’s knowledge about where the whales were found.

Right whales and other baleen whales travel the oceans, migrating thousands of miles every year. Yet like humpback, gray and some of the other better studied baleen whales, they travel along similar routes and return to some of the same habitats year after year, some of which we are still discovering. These specific areas are special to the whales for one reason or another.

In the cold, temperate waters of New England and the Bay of Fundy, such areas are where whales find dense patches of copepods and other food. By contrast, in the warm waters off the Southeast U.S., the habitat seems to be defined by water temperature and depth related to the best conditions for raising a newborn calf.

Still, as much as we can predict the location of certain habitats, the locations of portions of the population remain mysterious at any one time. We have to keep refining our knowledge of what constitutes a good habitat.

Right whales have large habitats as befits a large, highly mobile creature.  Compared to land, habitats in the sea for most species tend to be much larger, more fluid, with a certain amount of variation from year to year. But they are still definable and protecting these “homes for whales” is critical for their survival as well as a matter of legal responsibility in the U.S. and Canada with legislation that dictates a response when a species is endangered. The governments must try to locate and protect the troubled species’ critical habitat and follow up with a recovery plan.

Stay tuned for Part II next week!