North Atlantic right whales are in grave danger of extinction because of human activity. The greatest current threats to their survival are being killed from ship strikes and fishing gear entanglement, which can cause them to drown or starve from dragging heavy fishing gear. Fishing ropes can cut into their flesh, causing life-threatening infections, and sever their fins, tails and bones.

Once abundant, with populations estimated to be as high as 21,000, right whales were once targeted by whalers and hunted to the brink of extinction. There were fewer than 100 left when an international ban on commercial whaling came into effect in 1935. 

2017 was a crisis year for right whales, with an unprecedented 17 deaths reported – 12 in Canadian waters – and an additional three whales were killed in 2018. Making matters worse, only seven calves have been born in the last two years. Fewer than 100 right whales are females of reproductive age and sadly many of them will die before they turn 30, which also cuts short their ability to contribute to building the population.

Since June 2019, eight North Atlantic right whales have died in Canadian waters.  

Protecting all right whales from human activity is critical to their survival. Even a single human-caused death a year is one too many, and must be prevented. Join Oceana Canada and call on the government to prevent North Atlantic right whale deaths. Help change their fate from extinction to recovery. 

Get comprehensive, up-to-date information about right whale sightings in Canadian waters

Johnson, HD (2018). Whalemap. Full interactive map available at


Get to know North Atlantic right whales

• North Atlantic right whales are the third largest whale in world, after blue and fin whales. They grow up to 18 metres long and weigh up to 70 tonnes.

• Despite their large size, they eat one of the smallest sea creatures, called copepods – a tiny zooplankton. They gorge on thousands of copepods in a single mouthful, eating about 100 million per day.

• Right whales are filter feeders and strain food through hundreds of plates of baleen that can reach three metres in length. 

• They are called “right whales” because their slow swimming speed, nearness to shore and tendency to float when dead and made them the “right” whale to hunt during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

• They are black with some white on their undersides and can be distinguished by white patches on their heads called callosities. Callosities can be used to identify individual whales.

• Calves nurse for the first one to two years of their lives and remain close to their mothers until around age 10. They can live to be up to 70 years old

• Their habitat and migration routes span from summer feeding grounds in Eastern Canada and New England to winter calving grounds off the southeastern U.S.