The Pygmy Right Whale – too few and too small to kill!

This whale is rarely seen and so the above photograph is of a beached whale in New Zealand. The scientific name is Caperea Marginata and it is part of the family of baleen whales called Cetotheriidae. The range of this small whale, 3000 lbs. and 6 meters is very small in whale size, is the southern ocean and some have been seen in Southern parts of Australia and New Zealand.

It is rarely encountered and so the details about numbers and threats are hard to figure out. The Pygmy Right Whale belongs to an ancient family of whales called Cetotheriidae; all the other members of which have been extinct for the last 2 million years or so.  This animal’s ancestors diverged from other baleen whales like Humpbacks and Blue whales between 17 million and 25 million years ago. Thus it can be termed as a living fossil.

Proceedings of the Royal Society

This group differs from other whales by having a wrinkle in it’s ear-bone ( hence the name Caperea) causing it to be almost square. They have dorsal fins, quite unlike other right whales. All the neck vertebrae are fused and they have only 44 vertebrae when compared to more than 55 on gray whales. However, they do have 18 pairs of ribs, fairly large number for whales. They are like armor plates which provide some stiffening to their body.

The beached specimens tell us that they eat krill and other small crustaceans which the baleen is uniquely adapted to harvest.

Little is known about their mating habits and gestation periods because of the inhospitable nature of their vast territory and their small numbers.

Due to the fact that the pygmy right whale is small when compared to other baleen whale species and also that they are so rarely seen in the open seas(low social bonds, probably), these marine mammals were rarely hunted during the whaling era. If for nothing else, you have to thank fossil fuels for the end of the butchery of that era. They have few threat now and their is quite enough krill to go around for now so this species may be with us for some time yet.

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I blog about mammals and all the interesting and fun-filled facts about them will be welcome additions to this blog.

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