NOAA Fisheries conducts various research activities on the biology, behavior, and ecology of the North Atlantic right whale. The results of this research are used to inform management decisions and enhance recovery efforts for this endangered species.

Aerial Surveys

Scientists use small aircraft to spot North Atlantic right whales and photograph them to identify individuals, and record their seasonal distribution. Understanding the whales’ migration patterns helps managers establish measures to reduce vessel strikes and limit the overlap between fisheries and whales. NOAA Fisheries and our partners also use small unmanned aircraft systems—commonly called “drones”—to assess individual right whale size and body condition, as well as taking breath samples to analyze factors such as genetics and stress hormones.

Aerial view of North Atlantic right whale mom and calf.

North Atlantic right whale mother and calf as seen from a research drone called a hexacopter. Hexacopters allow researchers to conduct right whale photo identification and photogrammetry studies. Photogrammetry techniques allow scientists to get body measurents from aerial photographs. Photo: NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center/Lisa Conger and Elizabeth Josephson.

Shipboard Studies

In addition to aerial surveys, we conduct research cruises that investigate the whales’ habitat preferences and feeding ecology, as well as conducting photographic and genetic identification. Information from this research can be used to inform management actions that protect the North Atlantic right whale.

Acoustic Science

Other research is focused on the acoustic environment of cetaceans, including North Atlantic right whales. Acoustics is the science of how sound is transmitted. This research involves increasing our understanding of the basic acoustic behavior of whales, dolphins, and fish; mapping the acoustic environment; and developing better methods to locate cetaceans using autonomous gliders and passive acoustic arrays.

Learn more about acoustic science

Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events

To understand the health of North Atlantic right whale populations, scientists study unusual mortality events. Understanding and investigating marine mammal UMEs is important because they can serve as indicators of ocean health, giving insight into larger environmental issues that may also have implications for human health and welfare.

Learn more about marine mammal UMEs

Learn more about North Atlantic right whale UMEs

Stock Assessments

Determining the size of the North Atlantic right whale population—and whether it is increasing or decreasing from year to year—helps resource managers assess the success of the conservation measures enacted. Our scientists collect population information on right whales from various sources and present this data in an annual stock assessment report.

Learn more about marine mammal stock assessments

Find North Atlantic right whale stock assessment reports