On January 23, 2013, NOAA finally issued a Draft Recovery Plan for the North Pacific Right Whale pursuant to the Endangered Species Act. Public comment on the Draft Plan will be accepted until March 11, and the comments can be made on-line.
The Draft Plan contains a good description of the current scientific knowlege regarding right whales and the threats they face. It also describes what NOAA plans to do to prevent the species from going extinct.
There have been some recent scientific publications, but there seems to be little field research since the completion of the surveys of the eastern Bering Sea by NMFS for the Minerals Management Service in 2009.
Recent sightings in the Gulf of Alaska:
Wikipedia & this webpage - how are they different?
In 2010, I decided to change the focus of the present webpage from being a primary source of all infomation about this species to being a complement to Wikipedia's North Pacific Right Whale page. So, I with the help of many others, I added large amounts of information to the Wikipedia artice, and am the principal author of that page.
The advantages of this approach is that Wikipedia has many more visitors and collaborative help from others. Wikipedia is a know, and generally well trusted website, and it attracts many viewers who would not wander to a specialized site like mine.
How do the websites differ?
Many people know of right whales as a consequence of Roger Payne's National Geographic Society TV specials on the whales of Peninsula Valdez, Argentina. Right whales have also recently gotten attention from whale-watchers off Cape Cod and other areas in the northeast and eastern Canada. Right whales are even becoming the object of significant whale watching industries (and nice WWW sites!) along the coasts of Australia (Whales on the Net and (South Australia Whale Centre), South Africa, and New Brunswick, Canada. However, right whales also occur in the North Pacific. In fact, they were the basis for a major whaling industry in the North Pacific, particularly between 1840-48. They still occur in the North Pacific, yet they are the forgotten whale species. Here is some information about them.
The World's Most Endangered Whale Species: The North Pacific Right Whale
Among the large whales, right whales have shown the least signs of recovery after their decimation by whalers. The population in the eastern North Atlantic that supported a major fishery appears to be zero. The population in the western North Atlantic is less than 400 animals. In the North Pacific, the species is so exceedingly rare that almost every sighting of a single animal is a publishable event. There may only be a few hundred animals or less in the entire North Pacific with most of these animals occurring in the western North Atlantic and the Sea of Okhotsk.
In the U.S., conservation of all whales is the responsibility of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in the Department of Commerce. Their WWW site has information about Northern Right Whales generally. Pursuant to its responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, in 1990 NMFS prepared a Recovery Plan for the the Northern Right Whale which it is now updating. Because the western North Atlantic population is much better known than the No Pacific population, the former has been the focus of the conservation efforts of NMFS and other groups such as the New England Aquarium and the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, MA. The No. Pacific right whale population remains elusively difficult to study, let alone protect. The International Whaling Commission convened a Special Meeting of the Scientific Committee to Review the Status of Right Whales in March 1998 in South Africa.
My studies of Maury's whaling records from the 1840s revealed very dense populations of right whales both in the Gulf of Alaska, and more particularly along the coast of Kamchatka (RWs seen on 90+% of search days) and along the Kurile Islands. Review of the historic whaling records shows an extraordinary abundance of right whales in the North Pacific in the 1840s. Right whales appear to have been more abundant than gray whales in the North Pacific. I hope that the No Pac. right whale is not forgotten in all the justified concern for RWs in other oceans.
All indications are that the E North Pacific population is exceedingly small and may be on its way out. Given the level of whalewatching/fishing/pelagic birding effort along the California coast, particularly during the January-March period, the low level of sightings appears to mirror a very small, perhaps intermittent population here.
Recommended Popular Books & Articles about Right Whales:
Please send any comments or corrections to: Jim Scarff with "right whale" in subject line.
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