Buddy the Story of a
North Atlantic Right whale
My name is Buddy, and I am a North Atlantic right whale. To know me better I thought I would write this little book.
The ocean is my home. I was born in late Autumn in the warm waters near the Gulf Stream just off the coast of Tybee Island, Georgia. That's about 30 miles east of Savannah, Georgia. At birth, I weighed in just shy of 2 tons and was about 13 feet long.
Now, I know that sounds like a pretty big baby, but Mom was about 55 feet in length. To grasp that, think of the length of a school bus. Her diameter was about 40 feet. If that isn’t impressive enough, she weighed about 70 tons and would eat about 2600 pounds of krill and zooplankton per day. So, I was just a tiny tot next to my mom.
After my birth, I stayed near my mom for about 17 months. Each spring mom and I migrated from the coastal area in the south, where I was born, to the Bay of Fundy in the north. Then in August, we would head south again.
Unique Characteristics of Me
There are several things that make right whales unique. Scientifically, I am known as Eubalaena glacialis. This means that instead of having teeth, I have a filtering feed-system called baleen. Baleen plates are a material sort of like your fingernails, but much longer. When I am fully grown my baleen will be about 7 feet long.
Also, right whales can be identified by callosities located on the head and back. One of my friend’s name is Smoke. His callosities look like the ring of a smoke signal. Each one is different. Mine resembles a budding flower; so they call me Buddy.
Right whales are big, and so we eat a lot of food. That brings me to another fact that is a little crass, but here goes. I poop a lot. The great thing about that is it is an extremely good fertilizer for the ecosystem—nothing is wasted in nature.
This fertilizer is dispersed throughout the sea and phytoplankton love it. They absorb it to give them energy. They leisurely float on the ocean's surface doing their photosynthesis thing taking in carbon dioxide and sending off oxygen into the atmosphere; so that every second breath you take comes from the ocean. That all starts right here where I live in the sea.
Another trait of the right whales is the large intake of water that rushes in and then pushed out through the baleen filters leaving the krill and zooplankton inside. Then--hold onto your laptop--I blow air out of—not one, but two—blowholes which are like a nose on top of my head at about 100 MPH.
Yep. typhoon force.
You might think that with that much force I would be a super-fast swimmer. Wrong. My top speed is about 10 mph.
Since I do not swim very fast, this makes me an easy target for a number of hazards. It is ingrained in me and part of my genetics that I am the curious sort and like to swim near the surface of the ocean.
For my ancestors this too proved hazardous, so I was told by my aunt. In the 1900s whaling was a huge industry and it was totally acceptable to kill right whales to profit from the fat and oil. The name right whale came from the fact that when a right whale died, they floated instead of sinking and that made them the “right whale” to kill.
Before this industry, there were so many right whales that it is said that a seaman could walk across the Salem bay on the backs of the North Atlantic right whales.
There are now less than 450 here in the North Atlantic. It is not whaling that is causing the decline but other hazardous situations.
If there are whale skills of avoiding entanglements, I certainly do not know them. It was a beautiful day out in the North Atlantic Ocean. I was enjoying skimming the water for krill and plankton. I love the feel of the water rushing into my mouth. Then the final stage of pushing the water through my baleen and leaving the krill and plankton inside for a tasty meal!. I need about 2 million calories a day. I admit it. I have a hearty appetite!
Then it happened! I bumped into something, and I made a swift turn. I felt a snag in my baleen then I turned swiftly and felt a tightening around my pectoral fin. I was entangled in fishing gear. Although the rope was stuck between my baleen, I could open my mouth to let the water in and out; so, I could eat, but now I had 150 feet of fishing gear and buoys tagging along with me!
As you might guess, it was indeed annoying to have all this fishing gear on my body along with the buoys and these callosities on my head and back that are, also, home to sea lice. (Yes. Lice in the ocean!) One day as I curiously swam near the surface of the ocean, a boat came near me with some people with a long pole. They reached out with that pole towards me, and I felt something grab the fishing gear and then a big tug… I thrashed around not knowing what was happening to me! I swam away a distance and then there was that boat again! I felt a stronger tug and then a release. For the first time in months—I was free of the fishing gear! Still, other dangers were out there.
Mom and I were skimming one day in August. Then a ship approached. A flood of whirling water turned red around me and the ship continued on its way unaware of the ship strike. I nudge my mom, but her body floated there in the undulating Atlantic Ocean with gruesome gashes to her head and back.
It is reported that about 80 percent of right whales have had ship strikes or entanglements. I, too, have had a ship strike and entanglement. Some right whales survive, but not my mom.
I continue my yearly migration from the Bay of Fundy to the warm waters in the southeast. I usually swim alone.
Here in the Atlantic, there are many stresses on the right whales’ survival. Stresses that as a right whale, I cannot change: noise from sonar, ships, ocean exploration, ship strikes, entanglement, disease, diminishing food supply.
So, I look to you with a simple message: Take action to save the North Atlantic right whale or say Goodbye forever.