Where are they Now? How Historic Hunting Contributed to Decline
- Before right whales in the North Pacific were heavily exploited by commercial whalers, concentrations were found in the Gulf of Alaska, eastern Aleutian Islands, south-central Bering Sea, Sea of Okhotsk, and Sea of Japan.
- During 1965-99, following illegal catches by the Soviets, there were only 82 sightings of right whales in the entire eastern North Pacific, with the majority of these occurring in the Bering Sea and adjacent areas of the Aleutian Islands.
- Sightings have been reported as far south as central Baja California in the eastern North Pacific, as far south as Hawaii in the central North Pacific, and as far north as the sub-Arctic waters of the Bering Sea and Sea of Okhotsk in the summer.
- Migratory patterns of the North Pacific whales are unknown, although it is thought the whales migrate from high-latitude feeding grounds in summer to more temperate waters during the winter, possibly offshore.
- No calving grounds have been found in the eastern North Pacific.
How Do You Study a Rare Whale?
Because of their distinct vocalizations, right whales are easily identified and distinguished from other vocalizing marine mammals, making them an ideal species for passive acoustic monitoring. As a result, numerous studies on right whale vocalizations have been conducted. In order to acoustically monitor the endangered North Pacific right whale, the Alaska Fisheries Science Center uses a combination of long-term passive acoustic recorders placed on moorings throughout the southeastern Bering Sea and sonobuoys deployed from research vessels. This monitoring helps us monitor a species at risk for extinction due to its small population.