Pygmy right whale

Caperea marginata

Pygmy right whales are the smallest of all filter-feeding whales. But weighing up to 4,500kg, they are no featherweights!

Contrary to their somewhat misleading name, pygmy right whales aren’t actually 'right whales' and are placed in a separate family altogether.

Pygmy right whale illustration
Male Female Calf
Maximum length 6.1m 6.4m 2.2m
Maximum weight 4,000kg 4,500kg Unknown

IUCN conservation status: Data Deficient

What do pygmy right whales look like?

Pygmy right whales have small, flat and ridged heads that are heavily accentuated by their strongly arched jawlines. Extremely pronounced, their jawlines are unmistakable and become more exaggerated as they grow older. Filter-feeding whales, pygmy right whales have an ivory-coloured baleen that is threaded with around 213 to 230 plates on each side.

Unlike right whales, pygmy right whales have sleeker, more streamlined bodies that are topped with a small, sickle-shaped dorsal fin. On either side they have small, narrow and rounded flippers and underneath they have beautiful pale highlighting that runs from their lower jaw, along the belly and all the way to the tail. With an absence of lumpy callosities and resembling rorqual whales, pygmy right whales are sometimes confused with minke whales when seen in the wild.

What is life like for pygmy right whales?

When they swim, they curve their whole bodies in fluid waves of movement as they slip through the water. They generally do not spend more than a few seconds at the surface, which makes them understandably difficult to spot and study. When they do come up for air they stick their noses out, like little rockets poking out of the water, flashing their white lower jaws and handsome arched mouthline. Because they are so rarely seen, we don’t know much else about the littlest of baleen whales, yet from the sightings there have been, we know they like to gather in large groups.

It is not known what the total population size of pygmy right whales is.

What do pygmy right whales eat?

Despite being very little-studied, thanks to the research undertaken on stranded individuals, it is known that they feast on a variety of krill, calanoid copepods and other small invertebrates.

Where do pygmy right whales live?

Pygmy right whales dwell in the oceans of the southern hemisphere where the water is between 5 and 20 degrees, yet their exact use of habitat is relatively unknown Sightings occur around Tasmania throughout the year and seasonally elsewhere, for example along the coasts of South Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Falkland Islands, and some areas of Antarctica. That said, scientists have limited information to go on, mostly compiling information from stranded individuals.

Distribution map

Pygmy right whale distribution map

Pygmy right whales need your help

The main threats...

  • Pollution – pygmy right whales need a healthy ocean to survive. Noise, toxic chemicals, plastics, litter and oil spills all pose a threat to their future.
  • Fishing gear – pygmy right whales may get accidentally caught in fishing nets and lines, injuring or even killing them.

You can help save pygmy right whales...

By supporting WDC, you can help pygmy right whales to live safe and free. Together, we can: