Balaenidae - New Bedford Whaling Museum



Cetacean Family

  • Balaenidae

Species within this family

  • Eubalaena glacialis – North Atlantic right whale
  • Eubalaena japonica – North Pacific right whale
  • Eubalaena australis – Southern right whale
  • Balaena mysticetus – Bowhead whale

Defining Characteristics

  • Average 60 ft (18 m) in length
  • 110 tons (10,000 kg) in weight
  • Head is approx. 1/3 of length
  • Flippers are short and rounded
  • Feed on tiny zooplankton called copepods
  • Use baleen to feed and do not have teeth
  • Skim through the water with mouth open to allow water to pass through their baleen which enables them to filter the copepods from the water
  • Typically have 500 plates of black baleen
  • Almost entirely black, besides a patch of white below their stomach, and a band of lighter color on their tail
  • The major physical difference between right and bowhead whales is that Right Whales have raised patches of skin around their head, near their mouth, and around their eyes. These rough patches are called callosities.
  • Small crustaceans known as cyamids (whale lice) live on the callosities and give them their white and yellow color.

Interesting Facts

  • Live alone or in groups of 3-4
  • Stocks severely depleted by whaling
  • Bowhead whales can break through up to 9 inches (23 centimeters) of ice
  • Bowhead whales have the largest baleen of any whale with many plates over 10 feet (3 meters) and a claim of one reaching 19 feet (6 meters)
  • Population estimates for North Atlantic Right Whales range between 400-500
  • Population estimates for North Pacific Right Whales range between 900-950
  • V Shape blow

Habitat Range

  • North Atlantic Right Whale – East coast of the United States
  • North Pacific Right Whale – West coast of the United States & Canada
  • Southern Right Whale – Southern coasts of: South America, Africa, and Australia
  • Bowhead Whale – Arctic region

Bowhead Whale Photo by Martha Holmes /

Threats to survival

  • Habitat destruction
  • Pollution
  • Ship strike
  • Entanglement
  • Human disturbance

Life expectancy

  • Estimated life expectancy for right whales is between 50 and 70 years
  • Estimated life expectancy for bowhead whales is greater than 100 years. One was estimated to be 211 years old when it died

Cited sources

Researched and written by Gustin Froias, NBWM Apprentice, March 2012