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North Atlantic Right Whales


State and Federal regulations prohibit approaching a right whale within a 500 yard (1500 ft) buffer zone. Any vessel finding itself within the 500 yard (1500 ft) buffer zone created by a surfacing right whale must depart immediately at a safe, slow speed. The only vessels allowed to remain within 500 yard (1500 ft) of a right whale are vessels with appropriate research permits, commercial fishing vessels in the act of hauling back or towing gear, or any vessel given prior approval by NOAA Fisheries Service to investigate a potential entanglement.

Image collected under MMPA Research permit number 775-1875
Photo Credit: NOAA/NEFSC/Christin Khan


Right Whale Sightings

More Right Whale Information


Identifying Right Whales

Right whales have distinguishing characteristics that differentiate them from other species of whale. If you are unable to determine what type of whale surfaces within 500 yards of your boat, your best bet is to slowly and cautiously leave the area and maintain a 500 yard (1500 ft) buffer.


Right Whale Whale Physical Features


Right whales are large, rotund, black whales with large heads, long rostrums, and no dorsal fins.

They can grow up to 53 feet in length and weigh up to 80 tons.

Right whales have distinguishing hard white patches called callosities which are the best identification both for the species and for individual right whales.




Right whales also have distinct V-shaped spouts.


Right Whale Feeding Behavior

Right whales are known as “skim” feeders. When surface feeding, they zig-zag across the surface of the water filtering large quantities of water and collecting small zooplankton against their large, filamentous mats of baleen. Other large whale species such as humpbacks and fin whales are known for “lunge” feeding. Lunge feeders concentrate their prey into dense aggregations by blowing rings of bubbles that disorient the small fish and krill. These whales then lunge from underneath the aggregations and engulf their prey.


Image collected under MMPA Research permit number
775-1875. Photo Credit: NOAA/NEFSC/Christin Khan


For more information, contact the Protected Resources Division of NOAA Fisheries Service’s
Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office: 978-281-9328