Any of five species (genera Balaena, Eubalaena, and Caperea) of baleen whales (family Balaenidae) with a stout body and an enormous head. (The name refers to two species considered the right whales to hunt because of their value, slowness, and buoyancy after death.) The upper jaw is strongly arched, and the lower lip curves upward along the side, giving the lower jaw a scooplike form. There is no dorsal fin except in the pygmy right whale (Caperea marginata), a small, seldom-seen whale of the Southern Hemisphere. The bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus), inhabiting Arctic and northern temperate waters, is black, with a white chin, throat, and sometimes underparts. It grows to about 65 ft (20 m). The northern right whale (E. glacialis) grows to 60 ft (18 m). Similar to the bowhead but with a smaller, less strongly arched head, it may also have a bonnet, a horny growth infested with parasites, on its snout. Both species have been protected since 1946.
Southern right whale (Eubalaena australis).—Illustration by Larry Foster
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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