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Right Whales

The day they swam into our world

The 20-foot right whale calf surfaces to breathe as its 45-foot mother swims below.

The 20-foot right whale calf surfaces to breathe as its 45-foot mother swims below.

On Feb. 8, 2016, two North Atlantic right whales swam into Sebastian Inlet in spectacular fashion. The mother and calf stayed the night inside the inlet on the Indian River Lagoon, all the while watched carefully for their own protection. Their hesitancy to leave, including multiple aborted attempts, afforded the opportunity for thousands of well-wishers, animal-lovers and conservationists to see them. If it were not for local news coverage of this event, many people would not have seen these magnificent whales in a view usually reserved for birds. The last time anything like this had happened was when a mother and calf came in close to the shoreline at South Beach in the early 1980s.  

The North Atlantic right whale is the most endangered great whale on the planet, with only hundreds left on the face of the planet, as of 2017. Although it has generally been held that they got their common name by being considered the “right” whale to hunt because they floated when killed, if you dig a little it is not that simple. It is more likely because, at that time, they were considered a “true” whale, and it is in fact the meaning of their genus, Eubalaena. But, indeed, there are a number of reasons why it was hunted to near extinction, not the least of which is that with a thick blubber layer, it floated at the surface when killed and produced copious amounts of the coveted whale oil. As baleen whales and skim feeders at that, they feed at the surface, filtering krill and copepods through their fine baleen, moving slowly and hunting close to the coast making them easy to spot.