Monday, April 20, 2009

Endangered Whales Off The NJ Coast

There are nine mammals protected as endangered in NJ, and six of those are whales.

All six are also Federally Endangered, and so they are protected by Federal laws while off the coast of New Jersey.

Those 6 whale species are:
  1. North Atlantic northern right whale (or Black right whale), balaena glacialis
  2. Blue Whale, balaenoptera musculus
  3. Fin Whale, balaenoptera physalus
  4. Humpback Whale, megaptera novaeangliae
  5. Sei Whale, balaenoptera borealis
  6. Sperm whale, physeter macrocephalus
Cetaceans is the order that includes whales, dolphins and porpoises. It is then divided into two suborders: Odontoceti and Mysticeti.

Odonoceti have teeth and a single blowhole (nostril) at the top of the head. The sperm whale is well known, if only from pictures and movies, for being one that regularly produces a visible spout or blow.

(Photo of right whale skim feeding via The Whale Center of New England)

The Mysticetes are the baleen whales. The other 5 listed here are baleen whales. That means they have no teeth and filter their food through their baleen. They also have two blowholes.

Baleen is made of the same material as our fingernails and hair, and has been described to the touch as similar to thick plastic hair. The baleen plates overlap each other and hang from the upper jaw of the whale. (They are sometimes compared to vertical blinds.) Each plate is frayed on the bottom and edges so that they mat together and help trap food. Right whales have the longest baleen.

My childhood fascination with whales has never faded, so I will write more about each species here in the months to come. I also admit to listing Melville's Moby Dick in my five books list despite its portrayal of whale hunting.

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