Northern right whale (Eubalaena glacialis)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.Map Help



Eubalaena glacialis is a baleen whale and can be recognised as such by the plates of baleen (rather than teeth) suspended from the upper jaw and the two blowholes on the upper body. It has an arched upper jaw and a smooth lower jaw without pleats. The northern right whale is robust bodied and can reach up to 17 m in length. With no similar species in British and Irish waters, the northern right whale is easily recognisable at close range. It has distinct roughened areas of skin, known as callosities, on its large head. Callosities are present above the eye, on the upper jaw, and a line of small callosities is present on each side of the lower jaw leading to a large callosity at the front of the jaw.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Recorded off the west coasts of the Outer Hebrides and off the south-west coast of the Isle of Man.

Global distribution



The northern right whale is an open ocean whale, not often seen near the coast in north-west Europe. It can be found at the surface or diving down to a few hundred metres.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Up to 17 m in length.
  • Uniform blue-black over entire body except a white genital region.
  • No creases on chin or throat.
  • No dorsal fin or hump.
  • Arched upper jaw and mouthline.
  • Distinct callosities on its head.

Additional information

Northern right whales are usually found alone or in pairs, although in feeding areas up to a dozen have been seen together. It occasionally breeches, and when diving, it will often show the tail flukes. Slapping of the flippers and tail flukes has been observed. Dives may last up to 40 minutes long (Kinze, 2002).


  1. Bruyns, W.F.J.M., 1971. Field guide of whales and dolphins. Amsterdam: Publishing Company Tors.

  2. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E., 1997. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication, no. 276.]

  3. Jefferson, T.A., Leatherwood, S. & Webber, M.A., 1994. FAO species identification guide. Marine mammals of the world. Rome: United Nations Environment Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

  4. Kinze, C. C., 2002. Photographic Guide to the Marine Mammals of the North Atlantic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  5. Reid. J.B., Evans. P.G.H., Northridge. S.P. (ed.), 2003. Atlas of Cetacean Distribution in North-west European Waters. Peterborough: Joint Nature Conservation Committee.


  1. NBN (National Biodiversity Network) Atlas. Available from:

  2. OBIS (Ocean Biodiversity Information System),  2024. Global map of species distribution using gridded data. Available from: Ocean Biogeographic Information System. Accessed: 2024-05-27


This review can be cited as:

Barnes, M.K.S. 2008. Eubalaena glacialis Northern right whale. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 27-05-2024]. Available from:

Last Updated: 02/06/2008