Balaenidae /bəˈliːnɪdiː/ is a family of whales of the parvorder Mysticeti that contains two living genera: the right whales (genus Eubalaena), and in a separate genus, the closely related bowhead whale (genus Balaena).[2][3]

Temporal range: Late Miocene to present
Right whale size
Size compared to an average human
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Infraorder: Cetacea
Parvorder: Mysticeti
Family: Balaenidae
Gray, 1821


Balaenidae range map
Range of the Balaenidae species

Evolutionary history

Baleen whales belong to a monophyletic lineage of Mysticeti. Mysticeti are large filter-feeding cetaceans that also included of largest animals on earth as well as some of the most critically endangered.[4][5] Based on morphology and molecular data, four extant family-level clades are recognized within Mysticeti: Balaenidae (bowhead and right whales), Neobalaenidae (pygmy right whales), Eschirichtiidae (gray whales), and Balaenopteridae (rorquals).[5] Phylogenetic relationships of the mysticeti order remain unclear due to legal and logistical challenges.[5] However, recent morphological analysis, support Balaenidae as a monophyletic group that is the sister group to Neobalaenidae.


Balaenids are large whales, with an average adult length of 15 to 17 metres (45–50 feet), and weighing 50-80 tonnes. Their principle distinguishing feature is their narrow, arched, upper jaw, which gives the animals a deeply curved jawline. This shape allows for especially long baleen plates. The animals utilise these by floating at or near the surface, and straining food from the water, which they then scrape off the baleen with their tongues – a feeding method that contrasts with those of the rorquals and the gray whale. Their diet consists of small crustaceans, primarily copepods, although some species also eat a significant amount of krill.[6] Similarities in terms of physical appearances of jawlines and usages between balaenidae and flamingo have been pointed as a result of possible convergent evolution.[7]

Balaenids are also robustly built by comparison with the rorquals, and lack the grooves along the throat that are distinctive of those animals. They have exceptionally large heads in comparison with their bodies, reaching 40% of the total length in the case of the Bowhead Whale. They have short, broad, flippers, and lack a dorsal fin.

All species are at least somewhat migratory, moving into warmer waters during the winter, during which they both mate and give birth. Gestation lasts 10–11 months, results in the birth of a single young, and typically occurs once every three years.[6]


The four species of the Balaenidae that are found throughout temperate and polar waters; Eubalaena glacialis (North Atlantic right whale), Eubalaena japonica (North Pacific right whale), Eubalaena australis (Southern right whale), and Balaena mysticetus (Bowhead whale). Bowhead and right whales can reach up to 18 meters in length and over 100 tons at maturity.[8][9]

Exploitation and conservation status

Members of Balaenidae can live over 70 years and were hunted extensively in the late 1800s for their blubber. Approximately 40% of right whales body mass is blubber and thus were known as the "right" whale to kill.[10][11] After death, the large blubber deposits caused right whales to float to the surface, which facilitated an easier oil harvest. With population estimated between 300 -350, the North Atlantic right whale is the most critically endangered great whale. The Northern Pacific right whale is also endangered with only about 500 individuals extant.[9][10] The Southern right whale (~7500 individuals in 1997) and the Bowhead whale (20,000 to 40,000) have made stronger recoveries since whale hunting was significantly curtailed by international agreement.[9]


Until recently, all right whales of the genus Eubalaena were considered a single species—E. glacialis. In 2000, genetic studies of right whales from the different ocean basins led scientists to conclude that the populations in the North Atlantic, North Pacific and Southern Hemisphere constitute three distinct species.[12] Further genetic analysis in 2005 using mitochondrial DNA and nuclear DNA has supported the conclusion that the three populations should be treated as separate species,[13] and the separation has been adopted for management purposes by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service and the International Whaling Commission.[14]

The cladogram is a tool for visualizing and comparing the evolutionary relationships between taxa. The point where a node branches off is analogous to an evolutionary branching – the diagram can be read left-to-right, much like a timeline. The following cladogram of the family Balaenidae serves to illustrate the current scientific consensus as to the relationships between the North Pacific right whale and the other members of its family.

Family Balaenidae [15]
 Family Balaenidae 
  Eubalaena (right whales)  

 E. glacialis North Atlantic right whale

 E. japonica North Pacific right whale

 E. australis Southern right whale

 Balaena (bowhead whales) 

 B. mysticetus bowhead whale


  1. ^ Mead, J.G.; Brownell, R. L. Jr. (2005). "Order Cetacea". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 723–743. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
  2. ^ Bannister, John L. (2008). "Baleen Whales (Mysticetes)". In Perrin, W. F.; Wursig, B.; Thewissen, J. G. M. Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals. Academic Press. p. 80. ISBN 978-0-12-373553-9. Retrieved 20 May 2012. Although Rice believed that all right whales belong with the bowhead in the genus Balaena, recent genetic analysis have recognized three separate right whale species, in the genus Eubalaena: in the North Atlantic (E. glacialis); in the North Atlantic (E. japonica); and in the Southern Hemisphere (E. australis).
  3. ^ Kenney, Robert D. (2008). "Box 1: Taxonomic Rules, J.E. Grey, and Right Whale Names". In Perrin, W. F.; Wursig, B.; Thewissen, J. G. M. Right Whales (Eubalaena glacialis, E. japonica, and E. australis). Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals. Academic Press. p. 963. ISBN 978-0-12-373553-9. Retrieved 20 May 2012. The study by Churchill (2007) now has provided the evidence to conclude that the three living right whale species do comprise a phylogenetic lineage distinct from the bowhead and are rightly classified into a separate genus.
  4. ^ Churchill, M., Berta, A. and Deméré, T. (2012), The systematics of right whales (Mysticeti: Balaenidae). Marine Mammal Science, 28: 497–521.
  5. ^ a b c Kaliszewska, Z. A.J. SegerV. Rowntreeet al2005Population histories of right whales (Cetacea: Eubalaena) inferred from mitochondrial sequence diversities and divergences of their whale lice (Amphipoda: Cyamus)Molecular Ecology1434393456
  6. ^ a b Gaskin, David E. (1984). Macdonald, D., ed. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. pp. 230–235. ISBN 0-87196-871-1.
  7. ^ Laist W. D.. 2017. North Atlantic Right Whales: From Hunted Leviathan to Conservation Icon. "Right Whales and Flamingos: Convergent Evolution on a Grand Scale?". p.36-42. Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved on September 06, 2017
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b c "Balaenidae (bowhead whales and right whales)". Animal Diversity Web.
  10. ^ a b Eubalaena glacialis (Müller, 1776) North Atlantic right whale, Encyclopedia of Life, accessed 11-30-2015
  11. ^
  12. ^ Rosenbaum, H. C.; R. L. Brownell Jr.; M. W. Brown; C. Schaeff; V. Portway; B. N. White; S. Malik; L. A. Pastene; N. J. Patenaude; C. S. Baker; M. Goto; P. Best; P. J. Clapham; P. Hamilton; M. Moore; R. Payne; V. Rowntree; C. T. Tynan; J. L. Bannister & R. Desalle (2000). "World-wide genetic differentiation of Eubalaena: Questioning the number of right whale species" (PDF). Molecular Ecology. 9 (11): 1793–802. doi:10.1046/j.1365-294x.2000.01066.x. PMID 11091315.
  13. ^ Gaines, C.A.; M.P. Hare; S.E. Beck & H.C. Rosenbaum (2005). "Nuclear markers confirm taxonomic status and relationships among highly endangered and closely related right whale species". Proc. R. Soc. B. 272 (1562): 533–42. doi:10.1098/rspb.2004.2895. PMC 1578701. PMID 15846869.
  14. ^ National Marine Fisheries Service: Review of the Status of the Right Whales in the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans (2006). (PDF). Retrieved September 15, 2011.
  15. ^ Churchill, M.; Berta, A.; Deméré, T. (2012). "The systematics of right whales (Mysteceti: Balaenidae)". Marine Mammal Science. 28 (3): 497–521. doi:10.1111/j.1748-7692.2011.00504.x.

External links


Balaena is a genus of cetacean (whale) in the family Balaenidae. Balaena is considered a monotypic genus, as it has only a single extant species, the bowhead whale (B . mysticetus). It was first described in 1758 by Linnaeus, who at the time considered all of the right whales (and the bowhead) as a single species. Historically, both the family Balaenidae and genus Balaena were known by the common name, "right whales", however Balaena are now known as bowhead whales.

Throughout history, the family Balaenidae has been the subject of great taxonomic debate. Authorities have repeatedly recategorized the three populations of right whale plus the bowhead whale, as one, two, three or four species, either in a single genus or in two separate genera. In the early whaling days, they were all thought to be a single species, Balaena mysticetus. Eventually, it was recognized that bowheads and right whales were in fact different. Later, morphological factors such as differences in the skull shape of northern and southern right whales indicated at least two species of right whale—one in the Northern Hemisphere, the other in the Southern Ocean. As recently as 1998, Dale Rice, in his comprehensive and otherwise authoritative classification, Marine mammals of the world: systematics and distribution, listed just two species: Balaena glacialis (the right whales) and Balaena mysticetus (the bowheads).A DNA study by Rosenbaum in 2000, and another study by Churchill in 2007 finally provided clear evidence to conclude that the three living right whale species do comprise a phylogenetic lineage, distinct from the bowhead, and that the bowhead and the right whales are rightly classified into two separate genera. The right whales, therefore, are now officially in the genus Eubalaena.

The fossil record of Balaena, dating to the late Miocene, encompasses ten species known from finds in Europe, North America, and South America. Balena, described by Scopoli in 1777, and Leiobalaena, described by Eschricht in 1849, are junior synonyms of Balaena.


Balaenella is an extinct genus of balaenid from the early Pliocene of the vicinity of Antwerp, Belgium. Its type species is Balaena brachyrhynchus.


Balaenotus is an extinct genus of cetaceans from the Pliocene of Belgium.


Balaenula is an extinct genus of cetacean .

Balaenula balaenopsis

Balaenula balaenopsis is an extinct species of right whale in the genus Balaenula. It was discovered in Belgium in the late 1800s. There is only one known specimen.

Baleen whale

Baleen whales (systematic name Mysticeti), known earlier as whalebone whales, form a parvorder of the infraorder Cetacea (whales, dolphins and porpoises). They are a widely distributed and diverse parvorder of carnivorous marine mammals. Mysticeti comprise the families Balaenidae (right and bowhead whales), Balaenopteridae (rorquals), Cetotheriidae (the pygmy right whale), and Eschrichtiidae (the gray whale). There are currently 15 species of baleen whales. While cetaceans were historically thought to have descended from mesonychids, (which would place them outside the order Artiodactyla), molecular evidence supports them as a clade of even-toed ungulates (Artiodactyla). Baleen whales split from toothed whales (Odontoceti) around 34 million years ago.

Baleen whales range in size from the 20 ft (6 m) and 6,600 lb (3,000 kg) pygmy right whale to the 102 ft (31 m) and 190 t (210 short tons) blue whale the largest known animal to have ever existed. They are sexually dimorphic. Baleen whales can have streamlined or large bodies, depending on the feeding behavior, and two limbs that are modified into flippers. Though not as flexible and agile as seals, baleen whales can swim very fast, with the fastest able to travel at 23 miles per hour (37 km/h). Baleen whales use their baleen plates to filter out food from the water by either lunge-feeding or skim-feeding. Baleen whales have fused neck vertebrae, and are unable to turn their head at all. Baleen whales have two blowholes. Some species are well adapted for diving to great depths. They have a layer of fat, or blubber, under the skin to keep warm in the cold water.

Although baleen whales are widespread, most species prefer the colder waters of the Arctic and Antarctic. Gray whales are specialized for feeding on bottom-dwelling crustaceans. Rorquals are specialized at lunge-feeding, and have a streamlined body to reduce drag while accelerating. Right whales skim-feed, meaning they use their enlarged head to effectively take in a large amount of water and sieve the slow-moving prey. Males typically mate with more than one female (polygyny), although the degree of polygyny varies with the species. Male strategies for reproductive success vary between performing ritual displays (whale song) or lek mating. Calves are typically born in the winter and spring months and females bear all the responsibility for raising them. Mothers fast for a relatively long period of time over the period of migration, which varies between species. Baleen whales produce a number of vocalizations, notably the songs of the humpback whale.

The meat, blubber, baleen, and oil of baleen whales have traditionally been used by the indigenous peoples of the Arctic. Once relentlessly hunted by commercial industries for these products, cetaceans are now protected by international law. However, the North Atlantic right whale is ranked endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Besides hunting, baleen whales also face threats from marine pollution and ocean acidification. It has been speculated that man-made sonar results in strandings. They have rarely been kept in captivity, and this has only been attempted with juveniles or members of one of the smallest species.

Bowhead whale

The bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) is a species of the family Balaenidae, in parvorder Mysticeti, and genus Balaena, which once included the right whale.

A stocky dark-coloured whale without a dorsal fin, it can grow 14 to 18 m (46 to 59 ft) in length. This thick-bodied species can weigh from 75 to 100 tonnes (74 to 98 long tons; 83 to 110 short tons). They live entirely in fertile Arctic and sub-Arctic waters, unlike other whales that migrate to low latitude waters to feed or reproduce. The bowhead was also known as the Greenland right whale or Arctic whale. American whalemen called them the steeple-top, polar whale, or Russia or Russian whale. The bowhead has the largest mouth of any animal.The bowhead was an early whaling target. The population was severely reduced before a 1966 moratorium was passed to protect the species. Of the five stocks of bowhead populations, three are listed as "endangered", one as "vulnerable", and one as "lower risk, conservation dependent" according to the IUCN Red List. The global population is assessed as of least concern.


The Cetruminantia are a clade made up of the Cetacodontamorpha (or Whippomorpha) and their closest living relatives, the Ruminantia.


Idiocetus ("unique whale") is a genus of extinct cetaceans of the family Balaenidae.

List of cetacean species

The following is a list of existing (extant) species of the infraorder cetacea, organized taxonomically into parvorders, superfamilies when applicable, families, subfamilies when applicable, genus, and then species. In tabular form, seven descriptors are given for each species: the common name; the scientific name; the IUCN red list status; a global population estimate; a global map with its range; its weight with an image of its shape, and its size relative to a human; and a photograph.

List of mammals of Europe

This is a list of European mammals. It includes all mammals currently found in Europe (from northeast Atlantic to Ural Mountains and northern slope of Caucasus Mountains), whether resident or as regular migrants. Moreover, species occurring in Cyprus, Canary Islands (Spain) and Azores (Portugal) are listed here. If geographical range of given European mammal additionally overlaps Turkey, it is noted in some of cases. This checklist does not include species found only in captivity or extinct in Europe, except where there is some doubt about this. Each species is listed, with its binomial name and notes on its distribution where this is limited. Introduced species are also noted.

Conservation status - IUCN Red List of Threatened Species:

EX - Extinct, EW - Extinct in the wild

CR - Critically endangered, EN - Endangered VU - Vulnerable

NT - Near threatened, LC - Least concern

DD - Data deficient, NE - Not evaluated

(v. 2013.2, the data is current as of March 5, 2014)

List of marine mammal species

Marine mammals comprise over 130 living and recently extinct species in three taxonomic orders. The Society for Marine Mammalogy, an international scientific society, maintains a list of valid species and subspecies, most recently updated in October 2015. This list follows the Society's taxonomy regarding and subspecies.

Conservation status codes listed follow the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (v. 2014.3; data current at 19 January 2015) and are clickable to link to IUCN Red List species pages.


Morenocetus is an extinct genus of primitive balaenid from the Early Micoene (Burdigalian and Colhuehuapian in the SALMA classification) Gaiman Formation of Patagonia, Argentina.


Neobalaenidae is a family of baleen whales (suborder Mysticeti) including the extant pygmy right whale. Although traditionally considered related to balaenids, a recent phylogenetic study by Fordyce and Marx (2013) recovered the living pygmy right whale as a member of Cetotheriidae, making it the only extant cetotheriid, but not all authors agree with this argument.

North Atlantic right whale

The North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis, which means "good, or true, whale of the ice") is a baleen whale, one of three right whale species belonging to the genus Eubalaena, all of which were formerly classified as a single species. Because of their docile nature, their slow surface-skimming feeding behaviors, their tendencies to stay close to the coast, and their high blubber content (which makes them float when they are killed, and which produced high yields of whale oil), right whales were once a preferred target for whalers.

At present, they are among the most endangered whales in the world, and they are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act and Canada's Species at Risk Act. There are about 400 individuals in existence in the western North Atlantic Ocean—they migrate between feeding grounds in the Labrador Sea and their winter calving areas off Georgia and Florida, an ocean area with heavy shipping traffic. In the eastern North Atlantic, on the other hand—with a total population reaching into the low teens at best—scientists believe that they may already be functionally extinct. Vessel strikes and entanglement in fixed fishing gear, which together account for nearly half of all North Atlantic right whale mortality since 1970, are their two greatest threats to recovery.

Right whale

Right whales or black whales are three species of large baleen whales of the genus Eubalaena: the North Atlantic right whale (E. glacialis), the North Pacific right whale (E. japonica) and the Southern right whale (E. australis). They are classified in the family Balaenidae with the bowhead whale. Right whales have rotund bodies with arching rostrums, V-shaped blowholes and dark gray or black skin. The most distinguishing feature of a right whale is the rough patches of skin on its head, which appear white due to parasitism by whale lice. Right whales can grow up to more than 18 m (59 ft) long with a highest-recorded length of 19.8 m (65 ft). They weigh 100 short tons (91 t; 89 long tons) or more, reaching 20.7 m (68 ft) with 135,000 kg (298,000 lb) or 21.3 m (70 ft) with uncertainty, significantly larger than other coastal species such as humpbacks, grays, or edens and omura's, but smaller than blues. One (apocryphal) explanation for their name is that whalers identified them as the "right" whale to kill on a hunt due to the plentiful oil and baleen they could provide.All three species are migratory, moving seasonally to feed or give birth. The warm equatorial waters form a barrier that isolates the northern and southern species from one another although at the southern species at least has been known to cross the equator. In the Northern Hemisphere, right whales tend to avoid open waters and stay close to peninsulas and bays and on continental shelves, as these areas offer greater shelter and an abundance of their preferred foods. In the Southern Hemisphere, right whales feed far offshore in summer, but a large portion of the population occur in near-shore waters in winter. Right whales feed mainly on copepods but also consume krill and pteropods. They may forage the surface, underwater or even the ocean bottom. During courtship, males gather into large groups to compete for a single female, suggesting that sperm competition is an important factor in mating behavior. Although the blue whale is the largest animal on the planet, the testes of the right whale are actually ten times larger than those of the blue whale – with each weighing up to 525 kilograms (1,157 lb), they are by far the largest of any animal on Earth. Gestation tends to last a year, and calves are born at 1 short ton (0.91 t; 0.89 long tons) in weight and 4–6 m (13–20 ft) in length. Weaning occurs after eight months.

Right whales were a preferred target for whalers because of their docile nature, their slow surface-skimming feeding behaviors, their tendency to stay close to the coast, and their high blubber content (which makes them float when they are killed, and which produced high yields of whale oil). Today, the North Atlantic and North Pacific right whales are among the most endangered whales in the world, and both species are protected in the United States by the Endangered Species Act. The western populations of both are currently endangered, with their total populations numbering in the hundreds. The eastern North Pacific population, on the other hand, with fewer than 50 individuals remaining, is critically endangered – further still, the eastern North Atlantic population, which numbers in the low teens at best, may already be functionally extinct.Although the whales no longer face a threat from whaling, mankind remains by far the greatest threat to these species: the two leading causes of death are being struck by ships and entanglement in fishing gear. For the North Atlantic right whale, for example, whose population was estimated at 411 in 2018 which was down from 451 in 2016 and 458 in 2015, these two anthropogenic factors alone account for 48% of all known right whale deaths since 1970. More than 85% of right whales have been entangled at least once.In 2017, at least 118 right whales were in the Gulf of St Lawrence, or roughly a quarter of the local population, which previously fed in summer and fall months in the Bay of Fundy and Roadway basin. The habitat shift moved this population away from existing conservation efforts and into the path of busy shipping lanes and also snow crab fisheries where Fisheries and Oceans Canada doubled the quotas in 2017.

Southern right whale

The southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) is a baleen whale, one of three species classified as right whales belonging to the genus Eubalaena.

Approximately 10,000 southern right whales are spread throughout the southern part of the Southern Hemisphere.


Whales are a widely distributed and diverse group of fully aquatic placental marine mammals. They are an informal grouping within the infraorder Cetacea, usually excluding dolphins and porpoises. Whales, dolphins and porpoises belong to the order Cetartiodactyla with even-toed ungulates and their closest living relatives are the hippopotamuses, having diverged about 40 million years ago. The two parvorders of whales, baleen whales (Mysticeti) and toothed whales (Odontoceti), are thought to have split apart around 34 million years ago. The whales comprise eight extant families: Balaenopteridae (the rorquals), Balaenidae (right whales), Cetotheriidae (the pygmy right whale), Eschrichtiidae (the grey whale), Monodontidae (belugas and narwhals), Physeteridae (the sperm whale), Kogiidae (the dwarf and pygmy sperm whale), and Ziphiidae (the beaked whales).

Whales are creatures of the open ocean; they feed, mate, give birth, suckle and raise their young at sea. So extreme is their adaptation to life underwater that they are unable to survive on land. Whales range in size from the 2.6 metres (8.5 ft) and 135 kilograms (298 lb) dwarf sperm whale to the 29.9 metres (98 ft) and 190 metric tons (210 short tons) blue whale, which is the largest creature that has ever lived. The sperm whale is the largest toothed predator on earth. Several species exhibit sexual dimorphism, in that the females are larger than males. Baleen whales have no teeth; instead they have plates of baleen, a fringe-like structure used to expel water while retaining the krill and plankton which they feed on. They use their throat pleats to expand the mouth to take in huge gulps of water. Balaenids have heads that can make up 40% of their body mass to take in water. Toothed whales, on the other hand, have conical teeth adapted to catching fish or squid. Baleen whales have a well developed sense of "smell", whereas toothed whales have well-developed hearing − their hearing, that is adapted for both air and water, is so well developed that some can survive even if they are blind. Some species, such as sperm whales, are well adapted for diving to great depths to catch squid and other favoured prey.

Whales have evolved from land-living mammals. As such whales must breathe air regularly, although they can remain submerged under water for long periods of time. Some species such as the sperm whale are able to stay submerged for as much as 90 minutes. They have blowholes (modified nostrils) located on top of their heads, through which air is taken in and expelled. They are warm-blooded, and have a layer of fat, or blubber, under the skin. With streamlined fusiform bodies and two limbs that are modified into flippers, whales can travel at up to 20 knots, though they are not as flexible or agile as seals. Whales produce a great variety of vocalizations, notably the extended songs of the humpback whale. Although whales are widespread, most species prefer the colder waters of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and migrate to the equator to give birth. Species such as humpbacks and blue whales are capable of travelling thousands of miles without feeding. Males typically mate with multiple females every year, but females only mate every two to three years. Calves are typically born in the spring and summer months and females bear all the responsibility for raising them. Mothers of some species fast and nurse their young for one to two years.

Once relentlessly hunted for their products, whales are now protected by international law. The North Atlantic right whales nearly became extinct in the twentieth century, with a population low of 450, and the North Pacific grey whale population is ranked Critically Endangered by the IUCN. Besides whaling, they also face threats from bycatch and marine pollution. The meat, blubber and baleen of whales have traditionally been used by indigenous peoples of the Arctic. Whales have been depicted in various cultures worldwide, notably by the Inuit and the coastal peoples of Vietnam and Ghana, who sometimes hold whale funerals. Whales occasionally feature in literature and film, as in the great white whale of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Small whales, such as belugas, are sometimes kept in captivity and trained to perform tricks, but breeding success has been poor and the animals often die within a few months of capture. Whale watching has become a form of tourism around the world.

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