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Documenting the Elusive North Pacific Right Whale

January 11, 2024

North Atlantic right whales get a lot of attention. In this episode, we learn a little about their lesser known West Coast cousins: North Pacific right whales, whose numbers are dramatically low.

north-pacific-right-whale.jpg North Pacific right whale. Credit: Brenda K. Rone

All right whales are endangered, due mostly to historic whaling practices that decimated their numbers. And North Atlantic right whales in particular have rightly gotten a lot of attention and news coverage due to their dwindling numbers and sightings along the busy East Coast. But less attention is paid to their West Coast cousins, North Pacific right whales. Partly because sightings of them are incredibly rare, and the eastern population's numbers are very low—scientists believe there are fewer than 50 animals left.

In this episode, we learned about this enigmatic and tiny population of North Pacific right whales. In addition to being rare and elusive, they’re also the only right whales documented to "sing," or use repeated patterns of whale calls, making them all the more mysterious. Our guests are Dr. Jenna Malek, a marine mammal specialist and North Pacific right whale recovery coordinator in NOAA Fisheries Alaska's Protected Resources Division, and Jessica Crance, a research biologist in the Alaska Fisheries Science Center. Last summer, Jessica was part of a survey team working south of the Aleutian Islands that spotted four of these right whales. They even identified a brand-new right whale! 

Listen in to hear the North Pacific right whale's signature "gunshot calls." Jessica and Jenna describe the historical decline of these whales, the instruments we use to listen for calling right whales, and the conservation challenges and strategies that are being used to try and bring these animals back from the brink.

Last updated by Office of Communications on January 11, 2024