Pygmy right whale

Caperea marginata
Other names: 
  • n/a
Maximum length: 
  • Male: 6.1m
  • Female: 6.5m
  • Calf: 2.2m
Maximum weight: 
  • Male: 2,850 kg's
  • Female: 3,400 kg's
  • Calf: Unknown
  • Krill
  • Calanoid copepods and other small invertebrates
Estimated population: 
IUCN Listing: 
CITES Appendix: 
CMS Appendix: 

Pygmy right whales are the smallest of the baleen whales, and contrary to what the name suggests, the pygmy right whale is not actually a 'right whale' and is placed in a separate family. With an absence of callosities growing on its skin and the fact that it more closely resembles rorquals, the pygmy right whale can occasionally be confused with minke whales when seen in the wild.


The pygmy right whale has a small, flat, ridged head and the jawline is extremely arched, which may become more pronounced as the whale ages. The baleen is ivory-coloured, with about 213 - 230 plates on each side. The colouration of the pale grey or white lower jaws runs along the belly area, to the end of the tail; this contrasts with the dark head. The pygmy right whale has a body that is sleeker and more streamlined than the larger right whale species. Unlike other, larger, right whales, the pygmy species has a dorsal fin; this is small and sickle-shaped. The flippers are small, dark and narrow, with slightly rounded ends.


This species is a slow swimmer, curving its whole body in waves of movement as it travels through the sea. Pygmy right whales do not usually spend more than a few seconds at the surface at any one time. When they do come up for air, they stick the snout out of the water, and flashes of the white lower jaw and arched mouthline can be seen. The pygmy right whale is the least known of the baleen whales, because sightings are so rare.


Pygmy right whales are believed to live in areas where the surface water is between 5 and 20 degrees and only in southern hemisphere oceans. Some populations are thought to live in one area throughout the year - such as those in Tasmania, but scientists only have information from several strandings to go on. These have occurred as far apart as New Zealand and South Africa, so it is very difficult to be specific about where individual groups live. Pygmy right whales have been found entangled in fishing gear and are also thought to be threatened by environmental changes. Their worldwide population is unknown and their conservation status is listed as Data Deficient (IUCN, 2008).

Distribution map: