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First North Atlantic right whale sighting in Azores since 1888

11/01/2009 23:04:40

First Northern right whale sighting in the Azores since 1888. Photo credit Lisa Steiner/Whale Watch Azores.

On 5th January 2009 a North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) was seen 5 miles south of Faial Island in the Azores by biologists from Whale Watch Azores and the University of the Azores (UA). Lisa Steiner of Whale Watch Azores and Monica Silva from UA were guided to the animal by a land based lookout and recorded the animal travelling in a westerly direction for just over an hour.

ID photos
Identification photographs of the whale, particularly of the callosities and flukes, were taken and sent for comparison to the North Atlantic right whale catalogue, maintained by the New England Aquarium (NEA). Lisa Steiner identified this animal using the online catalogue and this was confirmed by Philip Hamilton from the NEA, who agreed that this animal was whale number 3270 which was last seen in the Bay of Fundy on the US/Canada border on the 24th September 2008.

Critically endangered
This sighting is the first confirmed sighting of a right whale in the Azores since 1888. The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered species in the world with an estimated population of just 300 in the North Atlantic. They grow to a length of 11-18 metres (36-59 feet) and typically weigh 60-80 tonnes.

First North Atlantic right whale seen in the Azores since 1888. Lisa Steiner/

First North Atlantic right whale seen in the Azores since 1888. Lisa Steiner/

Very common before hunting
The right whale was formerly common on both sides of the North Atlantic. According to the IUCN Red List it is endangered and appears to be effectively extinct in the eastern North Atlantic. In the past they probably ranged from a calving ground in the Golfo de Cintra (23°N) off Western Sahara, through the Azores, Bay of Biscay, western British Isles, and the Norwegian Sea to the North Cape.

25 species of cetaceans in Azores
The Azores are home to 25 species of cetacean and Whale Watch Azores has been studying these animals since 1993, funding its research entirely by taking members of the public out to see them on its 12 metre catamaran ‘Physeter'. Lisa Steiner is a leading researcher of Azores cetaceans and has discovered 3 new species records for the area as well as matching sperm whale from the Azores to sightings of the same animals in Canaries, Madeira and Norway.

Courtesy of

Photo credits - Lisa Steiner/Whale Watch Azores


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