The World's Smallest Whale Population?

June 30, 2010

The North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica) was heavily exploited by both nineteenth century whaling and recent (1960s) illegal Soviet catches. Today, the species remains extremely rare especially in the eastern North Pacific.

Here, we use photographic and genotype data to calculate the first mark–recapture estimates of abundance for right whales in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. The estimates were very similar: photographic = 31 (95% CL 23–54), genotyping = 28 (95% CL 24–42). We also estimated the population contains eight females (95% CL 7–18) and 20 males (95% CL 17–37). Although these estimates may relate to a Bering Sea subpopulation, other data suggest that the total eastern North Pacific population is unlikely to be much larger. Its precarious status today—the world's smallest whale population for which an abundance estimate exists—is a direct consequence of uncontrolled and illegal whaling, and highlights the past failure of international management to prevent such abuses.

Last updated by Alaska Fisheries Science Center on 03/02/2020

North Pacific Right Whale Eastern Bering Sea Research in Alaska