After being hunted for centuries, today’s North Atlantic right whales face many challenges, including entanglements with fishing gear, ship strikes and climate change. This combination of threats, most of which are attributable to human activities, is jeopardizing the survival of this endangered species, which now numbers fewer than 350 individuals.

With their round, plump bodies, tendency to linger near the surface and lethargic nature, right whales represented the perfect target for whalers who successfully harvested them for centuries before driving the species to the brink of extinction. Also known as the northern right whale or black right whale, this species is found off the east coasts of the United States and Canada. In 2017, 18 right whale carcasses were discovered in the North Atlantic, sounding alarm bells across the scientific community. While the species historically frequented the Bay of Fundy, several individuals had ventured into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, resulting in an unusual uptick in the number of mortalities. In the years that followed, the number of births was not high enough to offset the number of deaths, which continued to accumulate.

Since then, a number of scientific studies have been conducted, initiatives to help the species have taken root, and regulations and special protection measures have been put into place. Given the steep challenges of coexisting with humans, the survival of this species hangs by a thread.

Throughout 2023, follow the latest right whale news on this page.

In our archives, retrace the events of 201720182019, 20202021, 2022 and 2023.

2024 news

So far, nine calves have been added to the North Atlantic right whale population, reports Radio-Canada. Although this number is comparable to last year’s 10 births, it is not likely to catch up with what was frequently observed in the past, given the current threats to the species.

Sad news for the North Atlantic right whale population: a collision has occurred off the coast of South Carolina between a pleasure boat and one of the 9 calves born in the last year. According to an article in Le Devoir, the young whale’s survival is at stake.

Just over a year ago, an exceptional event was observed: Pilgrim, a North Atlantic right whale, gave birth to her first calf at the age of 10. Exceptional, because although sexual maturity is normally reached between 5 and 10 years of age in this species, first births are now occurring later and later in the lives of females. The culprits? Entanglement, ship strikes and climate change – stressors that directly affect the reproductive success of this endangered species.

To read the article :

North Atlantic right whales: getting smaller and smaller. A study reveals that these endangered whales are gradually losing body size. Science & Vie reports that, since smaller females are less likely to give birth to a calf, the decrease in body size is threatening the reproductive rate of North Atlantic right whales. The article also takes stock of the state of the species.

A young North Atlantic whale has been found dead off the coast of Georgia. Radio-Canada reports that the young female died following a collision with a boat. She had previously been spotted 10 days earlier alongside her mother. The young whale is the second of its kind to die after being struck by a ship this year. The article discusses the critical state of the North Atlantic whale population and possible solutions.

Mortality review

North Atlantic right whales are currently experiencing what is known as an “exceptional mortality event”. Indeed, the annual mortality rate recorded since 2017 is particularly high and represents a palpable danger for the survival of this fragile and vulnerable species. This is why births, deaths and accidents involving these whales are being closely monitored in Canadian and U.S. waters.

Number of North Atlantic right whale births per year

Links and resources

Further reading on the species:
North Atlantic right whale factsheet

Recognize individuals and discover their life stories:
North Atlantic right whale photo-identification catalogue

Where are the right whales right now?
Interactive North Atlantic right whale sightings map: WhaleMap and On alert for whales

Surveillance and prevention in Canada:

Discover the right whale monitoring and surveillance activities in Canada being carried out by Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Understand the 2021 fishery management measures aimed at protecting right whales implemented by Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Discover the collision prevention measures implemented by Transport Canada



Summary of the exceptional mortality event (2017-2021 statistics) by NOAA Fisheries

View the details of the 2021 calving season compiled by NOAA Fisheries

North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium (NARWC) – NARWC Annual Report Card

2020 Annual Report by Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life

Reports and documentaries:

Entangled (2020) – A film by David Abel and Andy Laub

Baleines noires (2017) – Documentary Découverte on Tou.Tv (in French)

Deep Trouble (2017) – 6-episode podcast produced by CBC

Social media:

New England Aquarium Right Whale Research Program (Facebook)

Center for Coastal Studies (Facebook)

Hot Topics - 14/3/2024

Andréanne Forest

Andréanne Forest is the editor-in-chief of Whales Online since may 2022. After studying in environment and biology, she turned to science communication with the goal of making science both accessible and fun. Andréanne wishes to highlight the process of acquiring knowledge while transmitting the desire to learn.

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