Pygmy Right Whale

The pygmy right whale (Caperea marginata) is a member of the cetotheres, a family of baleen whales, which until 2012 were thought to be extinct; previously C. marginata was considered the sole member of the family Neobalaenidae. First described by John Edward Gray in 1846, it is the smallest of the baleen whales, ranging between 6 metres (20 ft) and 6.5 metres (21 ft) in length and 3,000 and 3,500 kg in mass. Despite its name, the pygmy right whale may have more in common with the gray whale and rorquals than the bowhead and right whales.

The pygmy right whale is found in the Southern Ocean in the lower reaches of the Southern Hemisphere, and feeds on copepods and euphausiids. Little is known about its population or social habits. Unlike most other baleen whales, it has rarely been subject to exploitation.

Pygmy Right Whale
  • Size

    The pygmy right whale is the smallest of the baleen whales. Calves are estimated to be about 1.6 metres (5 ft 3 in) to 2.2 metres (7 ft 3 in) at birth (a 2 metres (6 ft 7 in). By the time they are weaned they may be about 3 metres (9.8 ft) to 3.5 metres (11 ft) long.

  • Feeding

    Analysis of the stomach contents of dead pygmy right whales indicates that it feeds on copepods and euphausiids.

  • Life History

    The pygmy right whale is rarely encountered and consequently little studied. Gestation and lactation periods and longevity are all unknown. Part of the reason for the scarcity of data may be the relative inactivity of the whale, making location for study difficult. The blow is small and indistinct and the whale is usually a slow undulating swimmer, although capable of bursts of acceleration.

  • Behavior

    The social and mating structures are unknown. The whale is typically seen alone or in pairs, sometimes associated with other cetaceans (including dolphins, pilot whales, minke whales, and once a sei whalecow and calf). Occasionally larger groups are seen — in 2001 a group of 14 were seen at 46°S in the South Pacific about 450 km southeast of New Zealand.