The Northern Right Whale can be found in the areas marked in yellow in the map below. Named by whalers because it was the 'right' whale to hunt, Right whales were easy to kill because they were slow moving and, due to large amounts of blubber, would float after they died. The blubber was made into oil and baleen was used for corsets and buggy whips. Hunted to near extinction they were finally protected in 1931. Although the Southern species seems to be bouncing back, there are only about 300 of the northern species left. Ship collisions and entanglement in fishing gear is the most common cause of injury and death today.
Right whales can be distinguished from other whales by their 'V' shaped blow, stuby pectoral fins, a large head (about 1/4 of body length), callosities, no dorsal fin and a broad, deeply notched tail. The callosities found around the head are actually roughened patches of raised tissue. It has the same color as the whale's skin. The light color is caused by cyamids or 'whale lice' that live on the callosity. The pattern formed by the callosities is unique to each whale and is what researchers use to identify individuals.
Adults are 45-55 feet long and can weigh up to 70 tons. Females are usually 10 years old when they have their first calf. Birthing takes place off the coast of the FL/GA border with the majority of the sightings off Amelia Island. Calving occurs December thru March. But don't get any ideas about going out to try and view a mom and calf - Federal law prohibits approaching a right whale closer than 500 yards. They are frequently within a mile or two of shore, so sightings from the beach are possible.
More info about Right Whales
Follow the latest news on the survey crew from New England Aquarium go to their blog here.
Absolutely amazing photos and article from National Geographic - HERE