Last week something very special happened in Faxaflói Bay - a North Atlantic right whale was spotted by several of the whale watching companies here in Reykjavík!
The North Atlantic right whale is an incredibly rare species, with an estimated population of around 400 individuals. They are more commonly seen further south off the coasts of Canada and the Northeastern United States. It is very unusual to see them around Iceland, and there have only been 3 confirmed sightings of this whale over the last 30 years. The Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life was able to positively identify this individual as Mogul, a ten-year-old male who was most recently seen off of the East Coast of the United States in April of this year.
Historically the North Atlantic right whale was a prime target for whalers as they are calm, slow-moving, feed at the surface and tend to stay close to the coastline. They also have a high blubber content that causes them to float when killed, and produces a lot of oil. They were called the ''right whale'' as whalers considered them to be the right kind of whale for an easy hunt.
Today this whale is endangered and is no longer hunted, but they still face a variety of threats. Two of the most critical threats to the North Atlantic right whale are ship strikes and becoming entangled in fishing gear. These whales migrate south to the coasts of Georgia and Florida togive birth, which takes them through some of the most heavily trafficked waters in the region. The whale is very slow, moving at speeds of roughly 16kph (10mph), which means that it is very difficult for them to avoid oncoming ships or navigate around fishing equipment. Other threats include noise pollution and climate change, which could make it more difficult for them to find the food needed to successfully reproduce and raise their young.
The North Atlantic right whale is easily distinguishable from other whales by the callosites, or calcified skin patches, on its head. These callosites often appear white because of large colonies of cyamids, or whale lice. The whales have a broad back without a dorsol fin, and a long mouth that begins above the eye. They are dark grey or black with occasional white patches along the stomach. You can see more photos of Mogul below, thanks to the guides at Special Tours.
We are so happy that people were able to witness this beautiful creature first-hand, and hope that Mogul continues on a safe journey!
North Atlantic Right Whale Facts:
- Scientific name: Eubalaena glacialis
- Average length: 13-16 meters/43-52 feet, and females are larger than males
- Average weight: 40,000-70,000 kg/44-77 tons)
- Lifespan: at least 50 years, possibly up to 100+ (little data available)
- Feeding behavior: skimming (surface feeding) - slowly moving through areas of copepods, krill, or other small invertebrates. They are members of the baleen family, meaning they use baleen plates to filter feed.