Four Endangered North Pacific Right Whales Spotted in the Gulf of Alaska

As the first NOAA large whale survey in the Gulf of Alaska since 2015 wrapped up, scientists had two extraordinary encounters. They saw and were able to collect valuable information on four North Pacific right whales south of Kodiak Island, Alaska.

North Pacific right whales are among the most endangered animals in the world with fewer than 100 individuals estimated remaining. The species was heavily exploited by Russian whaling in the 1960s. Only an estimated thirty individuals make up the Eastern stock that inhabits Alaska waters.  A population of whales can be made up of different stocks depending on genetic characteristics or morphological (biological) differences or for management purposes. There are two stocks of North Pacific right whales, one in the eastern Pacific and one in the western Pacific.

“This work is really important. Climate change is already altering the North Pacific right whale’s sub-Arctic habitat, making the need to learn more about this critically endangered whale even more imperative,” said Alaska Fisheries Science Center marine mammal acoustician Jessica Crance, chief scientist for the cruise.

Scientists were thrilled to find two separate pairs of right whales, just 3 days apart. With so few animals remaining in the population, seeing more than one animal at a time is remarkable.