The most rare of all large whales, right whales were given their common name by whalers, who identified them as the “right whales” to kill. At fifty feet long and weighing seventy tons, right whales were hunted for their plentiful oil and baleen, which could be made into corsets, buggy whips, and parasol ribs. During the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, right whale populations were so decimated that the whales came close to extinction.
Since 1949, however, all species of right whales (southern and the two species of northern right whales) have been given complete international protection. The whales live in temperate Atlantic or Pacific waters — often near the coasts. It’s estimated that there are now several thousand southern right whales; South Africa’s population alone is believed to have grown from one hundred to one thousand animals since 1940.
The story is different for northern right whales, however. It is thought only several hundred exist, and their numbers do not appear to have increased in the decades since their protection began.
In the short, National Geographic “Behind the Photo” video below, photographer Brian Skerry describes how he got this amazing shot of his assistant with one of these gentle giants in the Auckland Islands in sub-Antarctica. It’s a moment he’s thankful for; one that, he says, tops his long list of amazing animal encounters.
We hope you’ll join us in being thankful for all of our shared wild animal encounters this Thanksgiving.
Experience your own intimate moments with the giants of the sea. Join Natural Habitat’s extraordinary whale watching trip in Mexico, our San Juan Islands Orca whale tour, or our Baja whale watching cruise!