North Pacific Right Whale
The North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica) is a very large, robust baleen whale
Baleen whale
The Baleen whales, also called whalebone whales or great whales, form the Mysticeti, one of two suborders of the Cetacea . Baleen whales are characterized by having baleen plates for filtering food from water, rather than having teeth. This distinguishes them from the other suborder of cetaceans,...

 species that is now extremely rare and endangered. The Northeast Pacific subpopulation, that summers in the southeastern Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, may have no more than 50 animals. A western subpopulation that summers in the Sea of Okhotsk between the Kuril Islands
Kuril Islands
The Kuril Islands , in Russia's Sakhalin Oblast region, form a volcanic archipelago that stretches approximately northeast from Hokkaidō, Japan, to Kamchatka, Russia, separating the Sea of Okhotsk from the North Pacific Ocean. There are 56 islands and many more minor rocks. It consists of Greater...

 and Sakhalin Island appears to number in the low hundreds of animals. Prior to commercial whaling in the North Pacific (i.e. pre-1835) the populations in the North Pacific probably were over 20,000 animals. The taking of right whales in commercial whaling
Whaling is the hunting of whales mainly for meat and oil. Its earliest forms date to at least 3000 BC. Various coastal communities have long histories of sustenance whaling and harvesting beached whales...

 has been prohibited by one or more international treaties since 1935. However, between 1963 and 1968 illegal Soviet whaling killed 514 right whales in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska as well as 136 right whales in the Sea Okhotsk and the Kuril Islands.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature
World Conservation Union
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources is an international organization dedicated to finding "pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges." The organization publishes the IUCN Red List, compiling information from a network of...

 categorizes the species as "Endangered". However, it categorizes the Northeast Pacific subpopulation as "Critically Endangered". According to the Center for Biological Diversity
Center for Biological Diversity
The Center for Biological Diversity based in Tucson, Arizona, is a nonprofit membership organization with approximately 220,000 members and online activists, known for its work protecting endangered species through legal action and scientific petitions...

, the North Pacific right whale is the most endangered whale on Earth.


E. japonica is a member of the family Balaenidae, and all species of this family are often lumped together in popular accounts as "right whales". This family consists of two genera: Balaena—with one species, the bowhead whale
Bowhead Whale
The bowhead whale is a baleen whale of the right whale family Balaenidae in suborder Mysticeti. A stocky dark-colored whale without a dorsal fin, it can grow to in length. This thick-bodied species can weigh to , second only to the blue whale, although the bowhead's maximum length is less than...

 of the arctic (B. mysticetus), and Eubalaena—the "right whales", also often called "black right whales". The much smaller pygmy right whale
Pygmy Right Whale
The pygmy right whale is a baleen whale, the sole member of the family Neobalaenidae. First described by John Edward Gray in 1846, it is the smallest of the baleen whales, ranging between and in length and 3,000 and 3,500 kg in mass...

 (Caperea marginata) of the Southern Hemisphere is considered to be in different family, Neobalaenidae.

Until recently, all right whales of the genus Eubalaena were considered a single species—E. glacialis. In 2000, genetic studies of right whales from the different ocean basins led scientists to conclude that the populations in the North Atlantic, North Pacific and Southern Hemisphere constitute three distinct species which they named: the North Atlantic right whale
North Atlantic Right Whale
The North Atlantic right whale which means "good, or true, whale of the ice") is a baleen whale, one of three right whale species belonging to the genus Eubalaena, formerly classified as a single species. With only 400 in existence, North Atlantic right whales are among the most endangered whales...

 (Eubalaena glacialis), the North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica) and the southern right whale
Southern Right Whale
The southern right whale is a baleen whale, one of three species classified as right whales belonging to the genus Eubalaena. Like other right whales, the southern right whale is readily distinguished from others by the callosities on its head, a broad back without a dorsal fin, and a long arching...

 (Eubalaena australis). Further genetic analysis in 2005 using mitochondrial DNA and nuclear DNA has supported the conclusion that the three populations should be treated as separate species, and the separation has been adopted for management purposes by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service and the International Whaling Commission.


E. japonica is a very large, robust baleen whale. It very closely resembles the other right whale species—the North Atlantic right whale (E. glacialis) and the southern right whale (E. australis). Indeed, without knowing which ocean an individual came from, the physical similarities are so extensive that individuals can only be identified to species by genetic analysis. Relative to the other right whale species, E. japonica may be slightly larger. Like other baleen whales, female North Pacific right whales are larger than males. Brindle-colored individuals are less common than they are among southern right whales.

E. japonica is easily distinguished in the wild from other whale species in the North Pacific. North Pacific Right whales are very large and can reach at least 18.3 m (60 ft) in length, with one record of 19.8m whale. and they are substantially larger than the gray
Gray Whale
The gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus, is a baleen whale that migrates between feeding and breeding grounds yearly. It reaches a length of about , a weight of , and lives 50–70 years. The common name of the whale comes from the gray patches and white mottling on its dark skin. Gray whales were...

 or humpback whale
Humpback Whale
The humpback whale is a species of baleen whale. One of the larger rorqual species, adults range in length from and weigh approximately . The humpback has a distinctive body shape, with unusually long pectoral fins and a knobbly head. It is an acrobatic animal, often breaching and slapping the...

Right whales are also very stout, particularly when compared to the other large baleen whales such as the blue
Blue Whale
The blue whale is a marine mammal belonging to the suborder of baleen whales . At in length and or more in weight, it is the largest known animal to have ever existed....

 and fin whale
Fin Whale
The fin whale , also called the finback whale, razorback, or common rorqual, is a marine mammal belonging to the suborder of baleen whales. It is the second longest whale and the sixth largest living animal after the blue whale, bowhead whale, and right whales, growing to nearly 27 metres long...

s. For 10 North Pacific right whales taken in the 1960s, their girth in front of the flippers was 0.73 of the total length of the whale.

Right whales are the only baleen whale species in the North Pacific that lack a dorsal fin altogether. Right whales are also unique in that all individuals have callosities—roughened patches of epidermis covered with aggregations of hundreds of small cyamids that cluster on the callosities. As in other species of right whales, the callosities appear on its head immediately behind the blowholes, along the rostrum to the tip which often has a large callosity, referred to by whalers as the "bonnet".

The species most similar to the North Pacific right whale in the North Pacific/Bering Sea area is the closely related bowhead whale. Both species have huge heads that constitute up to one-third of the body length, highly arched mouths, very long, fine baleen, no dorsal fin, and great breadth. However, the seasonal ranges of the two species do not overlap. The bowhead whale is found at the edge of the pack ice in more Arctic waters in the Chuckchi Sea and Beaufort Sea
Beaufort Sea
The Beaufort Sea is a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean, located north of the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and Alaska, west of Canada's Arctic islands. The sea is named after hydrographer Sir Francis Beaufort...

, and occurs in the Bering Sea only during winter. The bowhead whale is not found in the North Pacific. Bowhead whales completely lack callosities, the easiest way to distinguish the two species in photographs.

Although more than 15,000 right whales were killed by whalers in the North Pacific, there are remarkably few detailed descriptions of these whales. Most of our information about the anatomy and morphology of E. japonica comes from 13 whales killed by Japanese whalers in the 1960s and 10 whales killed by Russian whalers in the 1950s. Basic information about right whale lengths and sex are also available from coastal whaling operations in the early part of the 20th century.

Historic population

Before being decimated by pelagic whalers in the mid-19th century, right whales were common in the North Pacific. The number of right whales killed in Japanese shore-based net whaling or by Native American whalers in the Aleutians was almost certainly so small that it did not reduce the overall population size. Accordingly, one can consider 1835 as a good year to use as a baseline for the historic population. In the single decade of 1840–49, between 21,000–30,000 right whales may have been killed in the North Pacific, Sea of Okhotsk and Bering Sea. This suggests that right whales may have been as abundant as the gray whale in the North Pacific.

Southeastern Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska

In 2010, National Marine Fisheries Service
National Marine Fisheries Service
The National Marine Fisheries Service is a United States federal agency. A division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Commerce, NMFS is responsible for the stewardship and management of the nation's living marine resources and their habitat within the...

 scientists estimated that the population of North Pacific right whales that summer in the southeastern Bering Sea was approximately 30 animals. More specifically, their mark-recapture photographic studies suggested a population of 31 whales (95% confidence level = 23–54); and their genotyping study suggested a population of 28 whales (95% confidence level = 24–42). The scientists estimated the population contains eight females (95% confidence level = 7–18) and 20 males (95% confidence level = 17–37). They concluded that "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. In 2004, at least two calves were seen. In 1998 and 2004 an individual right whale was seen in the Gulf of Alaska near Kodiak Island and right whale calls were recorded from this area in 2000.

Prior estimates of current right whale population numbers in the eastern North Pacific were highly speculative. A comprehensive review of sighting data and population estimates in 2001 concluded that "none of the published estimates of abundance relating to North Pacific right whales can be regarded as reliable...[most] estimates appear to be little more than conjecture...[and] no quantitative data exist to confirm any of these estimates."

In a December 2006 status review of right whales, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) stated: "Recent sightings suggest that the abundance in the eastern North Pacific is indeed very small, perhaps in the tens of animals." The U.S. Marine Mammal Commission in its 2006 Annual Report stated that "the eastern population may now number no more than 50 individuals." A 2008 report by researchers "the extreme rarity of sightings in recent decades suggests that the population numbers in the tens."

A proposed oil and gas lease of North Aleutian Basin in the SE Bering Sea caused the Minerals Management Service (MMS) of the Department of the Interior to fund at an annual cost of about $1 million a cooperative series of annual surveys with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the North Pacific Research Board (NPRB), with a focus on located right whales and gathering further information about them.

An Argos PTT satellite transmitter was deployed in one and the whale was monitored for 58 days, a period in which it remained in a relatively small area within the middle shelf of the Eastern Bering Sea, just to the north of the North Aleutian Basin.

Sea of Okhotsk

Pelagic whalers in the 19th century hunted large numbers of right whales along the coasts of Kamchatka and in the Sea of Okhotsk. The latter area is a large sea, ice covered most of the year, entirely in Russian waters. Due to Russia restrictions on access, little was known about whales in this sea. However, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Japanese research vessels in the Sea of Okhotsk reported 28 sightings of right whales in the Sea of Okhotsk. From this sample, the Japanese scientists estimated a population of 900 right whales in the Sea of Okhotsk, albeit with low confidence intervals (90% CI = 400–2,100). After a gap of 14 years, Japanese researchers were able to resurvey this area in 2005 and apparently saw similar numbers of right whales in the same area. Other scientists have disputed the methodology used to extrapolate a total population size, and contend that the population may be less than half of that. Where these whales go in winter is very poorly understood.

Survey records from "JARPN" and "JARPN II" conducted from 1994 to 2007 by the Institute of Cetacean Research
Institute of Cetacean Research
The is a Japanese government-sponsored institution. It took over from the Whale Research Institute , which grew out of the Nakabe Scientific Research Centre ....

 detected 28 groups of right whales totaling 40 individuals with 6 cow-calf pairs distributed mainly in offshore waters .

In summer 2009, a co-operative cetacean sighting survey was conducted in Sea of Okhotsk by the Japanese National Research Institute of Far Seas Fisheries and the Russian (VNIRO) institute. During this survey, 17 groups of 29 total right whales were recorded and photographed. Analysis of the photographs revealed no matches among the individuals resulting in a minimum record of 29 whales encountered during the survey.


Like right whales in other oceans, North Pacific right whales feed primarily on copepod
Copepods are a group of small crustaceans found in the sea and nearly every freshwater habitat. Some species are planktonic , some are benthic , and some continental species may live in limno-terrestrial habitats and other wet terrestrial places, such as swamps, under leaf fall in wet forests,...

s, mainly the species Calanus marshallae. They also have been reported off Japan and in the Gulf of Alaska feeding on copepods of the genus Neocalanus with a small quantity of euphausiid larva
A larva is a distinct juvenile form many animals undergo before metamorphosis into adults. Animals with indirect development such as insects, amphibians, or cnidarians typically have a larval phase of their life cycle...

e Euphausia pacifica.

Like other right whale species, the North Pacific right whale feeds by skimming water continuously while swimming, in contrast to balaenopterid whales such as the blue and humpback whales which engulf prey in rapid lunges. Right whales do not have pleated throats. Instead they have very large heads and mouths that allows them to swim with their mouths open, the water with the copepods flowing in, then flowing sideways through the right whale's very long, very fine baleen trapping the copepods, and then out over their large lower lips.

It takes millions of the tiny copepods to provide the energy a right whale needs. Thus, right whales must find copepods at very high concentrations, greater than 3,000 per cubic meter to feed efficiently. National Marine Fisheries Service
National Marine Fisheries Service
The National Marine Fisheries Service is a United States federal agency. A division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Commerce, NMFS is responsible for the stewardship and management of the nation's living marine resources and their habitat within the...

 researchers mapped the southeast Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska
Gulf of Alaska
The Gulf of Alaska is an arm of the Pacific Ocean defined by the curve of the southern coast of Alaska, stretching from the Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak Island in the west to the Alexander Archipelago in the east, where Glacier Bay and the Inside Passage are found.The entire shoreline of the Gulf is...

 for areas with sufficient productivity to support such concentrations and analyzed the roles of bathymetry
Bathymetry is the study of underwater depth of lake or ocean floors. In other words, bathymetry is the underwater equivalent to hypsometry. The name comes from Greek βαθύς , "deep", and μέτρον , "measure"...

 and various gyres in concentrating copepods to such densities.


There have been very few, short visual observations of right whale behavior in the North Pacific. The mid-19th century whaling onslaught occurred before there was much scientific interest in whale behavior, and included no scientific observation. By the time scientific interest in this species developed, few whales remained and nowhere in the eastern North Pacific or Bering Sea could observers reliably find them. As of 2006, scientists had had minimal success satellite tagging North Pacific right whales. Observations total probably less than 50 hours over the last 50 years. What little is known about North Pacific right whale behavior suggests that it is similar to the behavior of right whales in other oceans, except in its choice of wintering grounds. The individual which was observed during a whale-watching tour off Kii Peninsula
Kii Peninsula
The is the largest peninsula on the island of Honshū in Japan. The area south of the “Central Tectonic Line” is called Nankii , and includes the most poleward living coral reefs in the world due to the presence of the warm Kuroshio Current, though these are threatened by global warming and human...

, Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 repeated breach six times in a row. The same whale watching operator had a very close encounter with a Right Whale in 2011 and this animal was very curious and active; it swam around a vessel for more than 2 hours, displayed all the aerial actions for several times (breaching, spyhopping, tail-slapping, pec-slapping) just side of the vessel, and the vessel had to cruise away from the whale because it kept following the vessel.

]There have been some noteworthy non-visual observations. NMFS biologists deployed various passive acoustic listening devices in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, recording at least 3,600 North Pacific right whale calls between 2000 and 2006. Nearly all of these calls came from the shallow shelf waters at approximately 70 m (229.7 ft) of the southeastern Bering Sea in what is now designated Critical Habitat for this species. 80% were frequency-modulated "up-calls" at an average 90–150 Hz and 0.7 second duration. "Down-up" calls constituted about 5% of the calls, and swept down for 10–20 Hz before becoming a typical "up-call". Other call types, e.g. downsweeps and constant-tonal "moans" constituted less than 10% of total calls. The calls were clumped temporally—apparently involving some level of social interaction, as has been found in the calls of right whales in other oceans. The calls came more at night than during the day.

The very small number of North Pacific right whale calls detected during the NMFS research—hundreds per year contrast with the vastly greater number (hundreds of thousands) of bowhead whale calls during migration in the western Arctic and blue whale calls off California—further reinforces the conclusion that the population size of North Pacific right whales in the Bering Sea is very small.


Before 1840, its range was extensive and had probably remained the same for at least hundreds of years. It ranged from the Sea of Okhotsk to the western coast of Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

. The seasonal movements and the densest concentrations of whales, then as now, are unknown.

To determine where the right whales were, an imaginative cooperation developed between whalers and one of the U.S.'s first oceanographers
Oceanography , also called oceanology or marine science, is the branch of Earth science that studies the ocean...

. In the 1840s the principal mariners who ventured away from the main trade routes were whalers. The description of currents, winds, and tide
Tides are the rise and fall of sea levels caused by the combined effects of the gravitational forces exerted by the moon and the sun and the rotation of the Earth....

s in these remote regions was of great interest to the U.S. Navy. Accordingly, Naval Captain Matthew Fontaine Maury
Matthew Fontaine Maury
Matthew Fontaine Maury , United States Navy was an American astronomer, historian, oceanographer, meteorologist, cartographer, author, geologist, and educator....

 made a deal with whalers. If they provided him with their logbooks, from which he could extract wind and current information, he would in return prepare maps for them showing where whales were most concentrated. Between 1840 and 1843, Maury and his staff processed over 2,000 whaling logbooks and produced not only the famous Wind and Current Charts used by mariners for over a century, but also a series of Whale Charts. The most detailed showed by month and 5° of latitude and longitude: (a) the number of days on which whaling ships were in that sector; (b) the number of days on which they saw right whales; and (c) the number of days on which the saw sperm whales. In the North Pacific, these charts summarize more than 8,000 days on which the whalers encountered right whales and the searching effort by month and sector. The maps thus provide a crude measure of the relative abundance of right whales by geographic sector and month, controlled for the very non-random searching effort of the whalers.

North Pacific whalers hunted mainly in the summer, and that is reflected in the Maury Whale Charts. There were almost no winter sightings and very few south of 20°N. The densest concentrations occurred along both coasts of Kamchatka and in the Gulf of Alaska.

In 1935, Charles Townsend from the New York Zoological Society (now the Wildlife Conservation Society
Wildlife Conservation Society
The Wildlife Conservation Society based at the Bronx Zoo was founded in 1895 as the New York Zoological Society and currently manages some of wild places around the world, with over 500 field conservation projects in 60 countries, and 200 scientists on staff...

) reviewed 2,000 whaling logbooks and mapped the locations of whale taken by species. His Chart C shows catch locations around the world, including the location by month of most of the 2,118 right whales taken in the North Pacific between 1839 and 1909, using data copied from 249 logbooks. His charts do not adjust for the nonrandom distribution of whalers, so they are biased by the whalers' preference for more coastal, more protected, and closer waters. s Chart C shows three main concentrations of right whales—one in the Gulf of Alaska; one along Kamchatka and the Sea of Okhotsk; and another in the Sea of Japan.

Of particular interest are the questions of how many "stocks" of right whales exist in the North Pacific. Was there just a single population across the North Pacific? Was there an eastern population that summered in the Gulf of Alaska and a second population in the western North Pacific? Was the population in the Sea of Okhotsk a third population distinct from the whales found in the Pacific east of Kamchatka?

Recently, researchers reanalyzed this early whaling data, along with more recent, but much sparser, sighting data. They conclude that there are probably at least two stocks of right whales in the western and eastern North Pacific, but that it is still unclear whether the Okhotsk population is a separate stock.

The North Pacific right whale's distribution is more temperate than that of the more polar Bowhead whale, and there are no records of the two species inhabiting the same area at the same time. E. japonica's summer distribution extends north into the southeastern part of the Bering Sea. In summer, the Bowhead migrates north through the Bering Straits and is in the Chukchi Sea
Chukchi Sea
Chukchi Sea is a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean. It is bounded on the west by the De Long Strait, off Wrangel Island, and in the east by Point Barrow, Alaska, beyond which lies the Beaufort Sea. The Bering Strait forms its southernmost limit and connects it to the Bering Sea and the Pacific...

 and Beaufort Sea. In winter, the ice-loving Bowhead moves south into the Bering Sea, but the right whales have migrated further south of the Aleutian Islands into the North Pacific.
Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska

Despite many aircraft and ship-based searches, as well as analysis of listening device records, only a few small areas report recent sightings in the eastern North Pacific. The southeastern Bering Sea produced the most, followed by the Gulf of Alaska, and then California. In 2000, 71 calls were recorded by a deep-water passive acoustic site at 53° N 157° W. An additional 10 were recorded near Kodiak Island
Kodiak Island
Kodiak Island is a large island on the south coast of the U.S. state of Alaska, separated from the Alaska mainland by the Shelikof Strait. The largest island in the Kodiak Archipelago, Kodiak Island is the second largest island in the United States and the 80th largest island in the world, with an...

 in the Gulf of Alaska at 57°N 152°W In 2004, a group of two were seen in Bering Sea on August 10. Another of 17 including two calves was noted in September, and one in Gulf of Alaska. In 2005, 12 right whales were seen in October just north of Unimak Pass
Unimak Pass
Unimak Pass is a wide strait between the Bering Sea and the North Pacific Ocean southwest of Unimak Island in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.-References:...


Review of more than 3,600 North Pacific right whale calls detected by passive listening devices between 2000–2006 strongly suggests that the whales migrate into the southeast Bering Sea (presumably from the North Pacific) in late spring and remain until late fall. The earliest were in late May and the latest in December. The peak calling period was July through October. Most were detected from shallow shelf sites within the designated Critical Habitat area. From October through December 2005, several calls were detected at the northwestern middle-shelf and the deeper shelf sites, suggesting that they may appear at different seasons and during migration.
Sea of Okhotsk and Western North Pacific

There are very few reports of right whales in the western North Pacific. A remnant population of right whales persists in the Sea of Okhotsk at least in the summer, along with remnant populations of the eastern populations of Gray and Bowhead whales.

The distribution of these three species is quite different. In summer the Bowheads inhabit the northwestern corner of the Sea of Okhotsk around Academy Bay and probably the northeast corner of the Sea. The gray whales stay close to Sakhalin Island, near massive new energy developments. In contrast, the right whales inhabit the southern Sea of Okhotsk nearer the Kuril Islands and northeast of Sakhalin Island. .

Even though western coast of Kamchatka Peninsula is considered as a major feeding ground for right whales, only a few records exist from the eastern side including sightings in 1978 and in 2009.

This area's remoteness makes observation very difficult and expensive. Based on survey records from "JARPN" and "JARPN II" conducted by Institute of Cetacean Research
Institute of Cetacean Research
The is a Japanese government-sponsored institution. It took over from the Whale Research Institute , which grew out of the Nakabe Scientific Research Centre ....

, the 40 right whales seen were distributed mainly in offshore waters from 1994 to 2007.

Migration and winter range

Large fractions of the other right whale species come close to shore in winter to mate or calve. However, no coastal or other wintering ground has been found for North Pacific right whales and which factor causes whales not to favor inshore waters is unknown.
Eastern North Pacific

Until recently, most researchers thought that right whales in the eastern North Pacific wintered off the west coast of North America, particularly along the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California. There have been few winter sightings in all these areas, particularly in California. However, a more detailed study argues that these single individuals were merely stragglers. Notwithstanding 7 days/week whale-watching operations in several parts of this range, there have been only 17 sightings between Baja and Washington state. The absence of calves from historic California stranding data suggests that this area was never an important calving or wintering ground.
Western North Pacific

No clear wintering or calving grounds have been detected in the western North Pacific. Most of recent sightings have occurred along the Japanese coast.

Historically, right whales may have wintered in the East China Sea from the Ryukyu Islands
Ryukyu Islands
The , also known as the , is a chain of islands in the western Pacific, on the eastern limit of the East China Sea and to the southwest of the island of Kyushu in Japan. From about 1829 until the mid 20th century, they were alternately called Luchu, Loochoo, or Lewchew, akin to the Mandarin...

 to south of China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 including Taiwan
Taiwan , also known, especially in the past, as Formosa , is the largest island of the same-named island group of East Asia in the western Pacific Ocean and located off the southeastern coast of mainland China. The island forms over 99% of the current territory of the Republic of China following...

 though there is little scientific evidence supporting this idea. Modern sightings in the East
East China Sea
The East China Sea is a marginal sea east of China. It is a part of the Pacific Ocean and covers an area of 1,249,000 km² or 750,000 square miles.-Geography:...

 and South
South China Sea
The South China Sea is a marginal sea that is part of the Pacific Ocean, encompassing an area from the Singapore and Malacca Straits to the Strait of Taiwan of around...

 China Seas, or Yellow Sea
Yellow Sea
The Yellow Sea is the name given to the northern part of the East China Sea, which is a marginal sea of the Pacific Ocean. It is located between mainland China and the Korean Peninsula. Its name comes from the sand particles from Gobi Desert sand storms that turn the surface of the water golden...

 are very rare, and the number of records is small. Only a few confirmed sightings in the area have occurred, including one from Amami Oshima
Amami Oshima
is a semi-tropical island in the Amami Islands, which is part of the larger Nansei Islands in Japan. Ōshima literally means big island, and it is the largest of the Amami Islands. It lies roughly halfway between the islands of Okinawa and Kyūshū. Briefly part of the Ryūkyū Kingdom, in 1624 it was...

 in April 1997.

Some right whales still migrate south along Japan's coasts particularly the Pacific side of the archipelago, however what portion of the southward migration passes Japan is unknown. Right whales were formerly abundant off the coast of northeastern Japan where there have been a few sightings in recent years including observations from ICR research surveys (single animals confirmed off Kushiro, Hokkaido
, formerly known as Ezo, Yezo, Yeso, or Yesso, is Japan's second largest island; it is also the largest and northernmost of Japan's 47 prefectural-level subdivisions. The Tsugaru Strait separates Hokkaido from Honshu, although the two islands are connected by the underwater railway Seikan Tunnel...

 in September 2002 and off the Pacific coast of Honshu
is the largest island of Japan. The nation's main island, it is south of Hokkaido across the Tsugaru Strait, north of Shikoku across the Inland Sea, and northeast of Kyushu across the Kanmon Strait...

 in April 2003). Local fishermen have regularly seen a few animals per year in the area (personal contact). There is one unconfirmed sighting off Shiretoko
Shiretoko may refer to:*A place in Hokkaidō, Japan:** Shiretoko National Park** Shiretoko Peninsula*The code name for Mozilla Firefox 3.5....

 Peninsula, the World Heritage Site in 2008.

There are some locations along the Pacific side of Honshu where sightings are particularly more common; from south of Tokyo Bay
Tokyo Bay
is a bay in the southern Kantō region of Japan. Its old name was .-Geography:Tokyo Bay is surrounded by the Bōsō Peninsula to the east and the Miura Peninsula to the west. In a narrow sense, Tokyo Bay is the area north of the straight line formed by the on the Miura Peninsula on one end and on...

 to all around the Izu peninsula
Izu Peninsula
The is a large mountainous peninsula with deeply indented coasts to the west of Tokyo on the Pacific coast of the island of Honshū, Japan. Formerly the eponymous Izu Province, Izu peninsula is now a part of Shizuoka Prefecture...

, Izu Islands
Izu Islands
The are a group of volcanic islands stretching south and east from the Izu Peninsula of Honshū, Japan. Administratively, they form two towns and six villages; all part of Tokyo. The largest is Izu Ōshima, usually called simply Ōshima....

 to Bonin Islands, Kii Peninsula, Cape Muroto and adjacent waters. In the first area, there was one entanglement freed alive in April 2000 off Tateyama
Tateyama can refer to:* Tateyama, Chiba , a city in Chiba Prefecture, Japan* Tateyama, Toyama , a town in Toyama Prefecture, Japan* Mount Tate , a mountain range in Toyama Prefecture, Japan...

, and two strandings at Izu Oshima
Izu Oshima
is a volcanic island in the Izu Islands and administered by the Tokyo Metropolitan government, Japan, lies about 100 km south of Tokyo, 22 km east of the Izu Peninsula and 36 km southwest of Bōsō Peninsula. serves as the local government of the island...

 in 2002 and 2005.

Right whales may have wintered in the Bonin Islands, but few sightings in recent decades support this idea. The Ogasawara Whale-watching Association reported seeing 3 groups of 4 different right whales in the Bonin Islands in the 1990s (two animals from different groups were photographed and recorded on underwater video); 2 or 3 animals appeared just off Mikura island
is a volcanic Japanese island in the Philippine Sea, administered by Tōkyō Metropolis and located approximately south of Tokyo and south-southeast of Miyakejima. It is one of the Izu Seven Islands group of the seven northern islands of the Izu archipelago....

 in March 2008. One animal was sighted very close to shore in Niijima, 2011 (later described). One whale was stranded at Kumomi in 1977, and there is a local museum which was built specially for displaying this animal's carcass.

Records in this area in 2011 are later described.
Off Kii peninsula, there are one sighting in June, 1999, one mortal entanglement in April, 2003, three records of two different animals in spring-summer 2006 both from many whale watching vessels. One of these whales were very active. A right whale escaped alive from a fishing net near Taiji Town
Taiji, Wakayama
is a town located in Higashimuro District, Wakayama, Japan.As of 1 January 2011, the town has an estimated population of 3,225 and a population density of 541 persons per km². The total area is 5.96 km². Taiji is the smallest local government by area in Wakayama Prefecture because, unlike others,...

 in January 2009, a very close observation during whale watching tour (later described) in April, 2011. Off Cape Muroto, two entanglements (both escaped safely) were reported in 1971 and 2008.
Two adults stranded in the northern and southern Ibaraki Prefecture
Ibaraki Prefecture
is a prefecture of Japan, located in the Kantō region on the main island of Honshu. The capital is Mito.-History:Ibaraki Prefecture was previously known as Hitachi Province...

 in 2003 and 2009.

Modern sightings in the Japan Sea are very few. Some strandings are reported from the 1970s to late 2000s, however none of the possible sightings of Right Whales are published or confirmed. Whaling of Right Whales was continued until 1978 in the Sea of Japan. A photo of a Right whale being hunted in 1922 in the Sea of Japan is available.

Unusually high numbers of right whales were recorded off Japan from February to mid-April 2011. One mature female of 18 m (59 ft) body length was stranded on the Shimoda coast on the southern Izu Peninsula. It had been previously sighted off Inatori, and interestingly, another animal was sighted very close to shore off Inatori again. A photo and a video are available. Another possible right whale was observed just outside of a port in Manaduru in May (no photo was taken).

In the Izu Islands, one whale was observed very close to shore, tail-slapping for an extended period of time. No photo of its head was taken.

Off Kii Peninsula, in April 2011, the same whale-watching operator who had encountered two different right whales in 2006 had a very close encounter with a right whale. This whale was very curious and active; it swam around a vessel for more than 2 hours, displayed all the aerial actions several times (breaching, spyhopping, tail-slapping, pec-slapping) alongside the vessel, and the vessel had to cruise away from the whale because it kept following the vessel. Many professional whale photographers were on this tour, some of them were also on the board when this tour operator during the 2006 sightings.

A young Right Whale was killed when it entangled itself in a net off Oita Prefecture
Oita Prefecture
is a prefecture of Japan on Kyūshū Island. The prefectural capital is the city of Ōita.- History :Around the 6th century Kyushu consisted of four regions: Tsukushi-no-kuni 筑紫国, Hi-no-kuni 肥国, and Toyo no kuni...

 in March, 2011. In fact, this was reported by a biologist who saw a right whale's meat being sold at a local market, later reported to a local aquarium.

A sailor on a yacht had a very close encounter with a cow-calf pair breaching off Miura Peninsula in the earlier 2000s. This sighting was later confirmed by a local marine biologist working at an aquarium.


So little is known about North Pacific right whales that any description of the threats they face necessarily involves some speculation. Much more is known about the threats faced by North Atlantic right whales, so a review of those threats is a good place to start.

Unsustainably small population

When populations of wild animals get very small, the population becomes much more vulnerable to certain risks than larger populations. One of these risks is inbreeding depression.

A second risk of very small populations is their vulnerability to adverse events. In its 2006 Status Review, NMFS stated E. japonica's low reproductive rates, delayed sexual maturity, and reliance on high juvenile survivorship combined with its specialized feeding requirements of dense schools of copepods "make it extremely vulnerable to environmental variation and demographic stochastic
Stochastic refers to systems whose behaviour is intrinsically non-deterministic. A stochastic process is one whose behavior is non-deterministic, in that a system's subsequent state is determined both by the process's predictable actions and by a random element. However, according to M. Kac and E...

ity at such low numbers". For example, a localized food shortage for one or more years may reduce the population below a minimum size. As the NMFS Status Review notes: "Zooplankton abundance and density in the Bering Sea has been shown to be highly variable, affected by climate
Climate encompasses the statistics of temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, rainfall, atmospheric particle count and other meteorological elemental measurements in a given region over long periods...

, weather
Weather is the state of the atmosphere, to the degree that it is hot or cold, wet or dry, calm or stormy, clear or cloudy. Most weather phenomena occur in the troposphere, just below the stratosphere. Weather refers, generally, to day-to-day temperature and precipitation activity, whereas climate...

, and ocean processes and in particular ice extent."

A third risk is mating. With so few whales in such a large area, simply finding a mate is difficult. Right whales generally travel alone or in very small groups. In other oceans, breeding females attract mates by calling. The success of this strategy depends upon having males within hearing range. As expanding shipping traffic increases the ocean's background noise, the audible range for such mating calls has decreased.

Oil exploration, extraction, transport and spills

Oil and gas exploration and production in the right whale's range could threaten the species' survival as a result of oil spills, other pollution, ship collisions and noise. In its 2006 Status Review, NMFS notes that the development of the Russian oil fields off the Sakhalin Islands in the Sea of Okhotsk "is occurring within the habitat" of the western population of North Pacific right whales.

There have been recent oil spills in the Bering Sea. In 2005, the wreck of the M/V Selendang Ayu near Unalaska released approximately 321000 gallons (7,424.7 imp bbl) gallons of fuel oil
Fuel oil
Fuel oil is a fraction obtained from petroleum distillation, either as a distillate or a residue. Broadly speaking, fuel oil is any liquid petroleum product that is burned in a furnace or boiler for the generation of heat or used in an engine for the generation of power, except oils having a flash...

 and 15000 gallons (346.9 imp bbl) of diesel into the Bering Sea.

The exploration phase of oil
An oil is any substance that is liquid at ambient temperatures and does not mix with water but may mix with other oils and organic solvents. This general definition includes vegetable oils, volatile essential oils, petrochemical oils, and synthetic oils....

 development is characterized by numerous ships engaged in seismic testing
Reflection seismology
Reflection seismology is a method of exploration geophysics that uses the principles of seismology to estimate the properties of the Earth's subsurface from reflected seismic waves. The method requires a controlled seismic source of energy, such as dynamite/Tovex, a specialized air gun or a...

 to map undersea geological
Geology is the science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which it evolves. Geology gives insight into the history of the Earth, as it provides the primary evidence for plate tectonics, the evolutionary history of life, and past climates...

 formations. Testing involves blasts of noise which echo off the undersea rock formations. These explosions have been banned in the Beaufort Sea during the time of year that bowheads are present. In its 2006 Status Review, NMFS concludes: "In general, the impact of noise from shipping or industrial activities on the communication, behavior and distribution of right whales remains unknown."

On April 8, 2008, a NMFS review found that there had been no recent Outer Continental Shelf
Outer Continental Shelf
The Outer Continental Shelf is a peculiarity of the political geography of the United States and is the part of the internationally recognized continental shelf of the United States which does not fall under the jurisdictions of the individual U.S...

 oil and gas activities in or adjacent to the areas designated as critical habitat for E. japonica. However, on the same day, the U.S. Minerals Management Service
Minerals Management Service
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement , formerly known as the Minerals Management Service , was an agency of the United States Department of the Interior that managed the nation's natural gas, oil and other mineral resources on the outer continental shelf...

 (MMS) published a notice of a proposed Oil and Gas Lease Sale 214 for 5600000 acres (22,662.4 km²) in the North Aleutian Basin. In January 2009, the MMS reported in a Scoping Report for the Environmental Impact Statement for the Lease Sale that "Many commentators expressed concern about impacts resulting from industrial activity and noise to the North Pacific right whales." More than half of the proposed Oil and Gas Lease Sale 214 in the Bering Sea is within the designated critical habitat of the North Pacific right whale.

On March 31, 2010, President Obama issued a memorandum for the Secretary of the Interior withdrawing Sale 214 from disposition by leasing through June 30, 2017, the Bristol Bay area of the North Aleutian Basin in Alaska. Right whales were not mentioned specifically in the reasons for this withdrawal.

Environmental changes

The habitat of E. japonica is changing in ways that threaten its survival. Two environmental effects of particular concern are global warming and pollution.

The high densities of copepods that right whales require for normal feeding are the result of high phytoplankton
Phytoplankton are the autotrophic component of the plankton community. The name comes from the Greek words φυτόν , meaning "plant", and πλαγκτός , meaning "wanderer" or "drifter". Most phytoplankton are too small to be individually seen with the unaided eye...

 productivity and currents which aggregate the copepods. Satellite studies of right whales show them traveling considerable distances to find these localized copepod concentrations.

Global warming can affect both copepod population levels and the oceanographic conditions which concentrate them. This ecological relationship has been studied intensively in the western North Atlantic.

Hybridization with bowhead whales

Recently, scientists have begun to notice that the warming Arctic Ocean and land is resulting in changed distribution of species with the result of breaking down climate barriers that have prevented hybridization between closely related species. The most reported examples have been the three confirmed grizzly-polar bear hybrids. In 2010, a team led by National Marine Mammal Laboratory
National Marine Mammal Laboratory
The National Marine Mammal Laboratory is a United States research laboratory that undertakes research into marine mammals under the direction of the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration....

 ecologist Brendan Kelly counted 34 possible hybridizations between distinct populations or species of Arctic marine mammals, many of which are endangered or threatened. These observed hybridizations included in 2009, a cross between a bowhead whale
Bowhead Whale
The bowhead whale is a baleen whale of the right whale family Balaenidae in suborder Mysticeti. A stocky dark-colored whale without a dorsal fin, it can grow to in length. This thick-bodied species can weigh to , second only to the blue whale, although the bowhead's maximum length is less than...

 and a North Pacific right whale in the Bering Sea
Bering Sea
The Bering Sea is a marginal sea of the Pacific Ocean. It comprises a deep water basin, which then rises through a narrow slope into the shallower water above the continental shelves....

. Kelly stated that "The breedings between the North Pacific right whale, whose numbers have fallen below 200, and the more numerous bowhead whale
Bowhead Whale
The bowhead whale is a baleen whale of the right whale family Balaenidae in suborder Mysticeti. A stocky dark-colored whale without a dorsal fin, it can grow to in length. This thick-bodied species can weigh to , second only to the blue whale, although the bowhead's maximum length is less than...

, could push the former to extinction. (Over time, the hybrids would begin to outnumber the sparse right whales.)" Co-author Andrew Whitely wrote: "Breedings between these marine mammals near the North Pole are likely to result in fertile offspring, because many of these animals have the same number of chromosomes...[and] Over the short term the hybrid offspring from these Arctic animal matings will likely be strong and healthy, because unlike inbreeding, which magnifies deleterious genes, so-called outbreeding can mask these genes...But over time, as the hybrids mate randomly, those harmful genes will come out of hiding and make the offspring less fit and less capable of surviving."

Entanglement in fishing gear

Unlike in the North Atlantic there is no record of entanglement in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. However, in the eastern Bering Sea gear is deployed in nearshore waters, areas "not associated and generally not overlapping with known North Pacific right whale distribution." Pot fisheries occur in offshore waters, but are often deployed in winter when right whales are not known to be present.

In the Sea of Okhotsk
Sea of Okhotsk
The Sea of Okhotsk is a marginal sea of the western Pacific Ocean, lying between the Kamchatka Peninsula on the east, the Kuril Islands on the southeast, the island of Hokkaidō to the far south, the island of Sakhalin along the west, and a long stretch of eastern Siberian coast along the west and...

 entanglement in fishing gear may be a significant problem. Deep-water crab
True crabs are decapod crustaceans of the infraorder Brachyura, which typically have a very short projecting "tail" , or where the reduced abdomen is entirely hidden under the thorax...

 traps and Japanese pelagic driftnet gear for salmon
Salmon is the common name for several species of fish in the family Salmonidae. Several other fish in the same family are called trout; the difference is often said to be that salmon migrate and trout are resident, but this distinction does not strictly hold true...

. Right whales have been found: alive but entangled in or wounded by crab net gear (2003 and 1996), dead from entanglement in unspecified gear (September 1995), dead from entanglement in Japanese drift net (October 1994), and alive with fishing gear wrapped on the tail flukes (August 1992). A young right whale was killed by being entangled in net in Oita Prefecture
Oita Prefecture
is a prefecture of Japan on Kyūshū Island. The prefectural capital is the city of Ōita.- History :Around the 6th century Kyushu consisted of four regions: Tsukushi-no-kuni 筑紫国, Hi-no-kuni 肥国, and Toyo no kuni...

, Japan in March 2011. In fact, this was reported by a biologist who saw a right whale's meat being sold at a local market, later reported to a local aquarium.

Ship collisions

Collisions with commercial ships are the greatest threat to North Atlantic right whales. Both summer feeding ranges and winter calving grounds are located in busy shipping channels. However, E. japonica does not frequent shipping channels. There is almost no published data that identifies or quantifies ship collisions or entanglement as substantial mortality factors for them.

Ship noise

In its 2006 Status Review, NMFS reviews the scientific studies on the effects of noise pollution on marine mammals and concludes: "In general, the impact of noise from shipping or industrial activities on the communication, behavior and distribution of right whales remains unknown."


Historic whaling is the reason North Pacific right whales are so endangered today. The two critical periods of whaling were 1839 to 1849 (pelagic whaling, 90 percent American ships) and 1963 to 1968 (illegal Soviet whaling). Both of these episodes are discussed later in this article. The illegal Soviet whaling in the 1960s killed 514 right whales in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska to plus 136 right whales in the Sea Okhotsk and the Kuril Islands.
In the 1970s, four right whales were taken by Chinese and Korea
Korea ) is an East Asian geographic region that is currently divided into two separate sovereign states — North Korea and South Korea. Located on the Korean Peninsula, Korea is bordered by the People's Republic of China to the northwest, Russia to the northeast, and is separated from Japan to the...

n whalers. However, there is no later record of targeting right whales.

Although whaling was the principal threat to North Pacific right whales, there is no record of whalers targeting this species since the 1970s. Accordingly this threat appears minor at this time.

Lack of funding for management, research and conservation

Trying to research and manage human interactions with whale populations that are spread out geographically in remote areas and hard to locate is expensive. With governments around the North Pacific facing reductions in budgets, funding for such efforts are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. Most of the research on the right whales in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska was funded as part of proposed leases for oil and gas exploration that recently have been deferred and that funding ended. The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service reports "currently there is no funding at all for North Pacific right whale research despite the critically endangered nature of this population."

In Japan, there only system of collecting reports of large whales along Japanese coast applies only to stranded, not free-swimming animals – the ICR Strandings Record., hence the limited knowledge about biology of right whales in Japan. There were more unpublished or unreported sightings of right whales confirmed by locals in recent years in which some important observations such as a cow-calf pairs observation close to shore are included (personal contact). For example, a sailor on a yacht had a very close encounter with a cow-calf pair breaching off Miura Peninsula in earlier 2000s. This sighting was later confirmed by a local marine biologist working at an aquarium.

Finding right whales

The threshold problem for conserving this species is locating them. While the other right whale species appear predictably along their migration routes, there are no locations other than a small area in the southeastern Bering Sea where members of the eastern population can reliably be found. and 1997–2004. For example, during a month-long dedicated research cruises in August 2007 sighted no right whales.

There may be locations in the Sea of Okhotsk where right whales can reliably be found in summer. In the Sea of Okhotsk, the right whales are currently distributed far from shore in the southern part of the sea. The Sea is all Russian territorial waters, so Russian cooperation is required for any surveys. The remoteness of the location and the enormous demand for ships and aircraft associated with oil and gas exploration near Sakhalin Island, would make any ship or aerial surveys difficult and expensive.

In winter, the whales' distribution is particularly mysterious. There have been a few sightings in California and even Baja, particularly in the 1990s. However, they have been rare, of short duration and none since 1998.

One technology that holds promise for finding right whales is passive acoustic listening. Such devices record for hundreds of hours. The technology is able to detect submerged animals, independent of water clarity.

Another, expensive technology that can provide information about this species are satellite-monitored radio tags. These are non-lethal, and applied with a crossbow, can beam the whales' location, movements, dives and other information to researchers. The technique has been used successfully in the North Atlantic. The challenge is to bring the tag and the right whale together.

Acoustic detection and satellite tags can work together. In August 2004, NMFS listening devices in the southeastern Bering Sea detected right whale vocalizations. The researchers then deployed directional and ranging sonobuoy
A sonobuoy is a relatively small expendable sonar system that is dropped/ejected from aircraft or ships conducting anti-submarine warfare or underwater acoustic research....

s to locate the calling whales. This information allowed researchers to photograph and tag two right whales, and obtain genetic samples. Only one tag worked, and it failed after 40 days, just as the whale was expected to start its southern migration. During that period the whale moved throughout a large part of the shelf, including areas of the outer shelf where right whales have not been seen in decades.

International law

The right whale's plight was recognized relatively early. Hunting them was prohibited in the first international whaling treaty, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling
International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling
The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling is an international environmental agreement signed in 1946 in order to "provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry"...

 signed in 1931. The treaty came into effect in 1935. Although the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, Canada and Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 ratified the treaty, Japan and the Soviet Union did not, and thus were not bound by it. Attempts to bring the other major whaling nations under an international regime stalled until after World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...


In 1946 the major whaling countries signed the Convention on the International Regulation of Whaling which established the International Whaling Commission
International Whaling Commission
The International Whaling Commission is an international body set up by the terms of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling , which was signed in Washington, D.C...

 (IWC) and took effect in 1949. The Commission's initial regulations barred whaling of right whales. Currently, the IWC classifies E. japonica a "Protection Stock" banning commercial whaling.

The International Whaling Commission sets maximum annual quotas for "commercial" whaling—zero in the case of right whales. However, the underlying Convention explicitly authorized member countries to issue permits to take whales for scientific research. This exemption/loophole has recently become a heated, controversial subject as Japan has been testing the catch limits and the definition of scientific research, justifying such catches in the absence of a commercial quota. In 1955, the Soviet Union granted permits to kill 10 right whales, and in 1956 and 1958 the Japanese granted permits to kill 13 right whales. These 23 animals provided most published morphology and reproductive biology data. No further right whale permits have been issued by any country.

During the 1960s, the International Whaling Commission did not place observers on whaling ships. Whaling nations were expected to monitor their whalers. The Soviet Union abused this process, directing its whalers to capture thousands of protected blue whale
Blue Whale
The blue whale is a marine mammal belonging to the suborder of baleen whales . At in length and or more in weight, it is the largest known animal to have ever existed....

s, humpback whale
Humpback Whale
The humpback whale is a species of baleen whale. One of the larger rorqual species, adults range in length from and weigh approximately . The humpback has a distinctive body shape, with unusually long pectoral fins and a knobbly head. It is an acrobatic animal, often breaching and slapping the...

s and right whales around the world.

All right whales (Eubalaena spp.) are listed in CITES Appendix I., which bans commercial trade.

The North Pacific right whale is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS
Bonn Convention
The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals aims to conserve terrestrial, marine and avian migratory species throughout their range...

) as this species has been categorized as being in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant proportion of their range and CMS Parties strive towards strictly protecting these animals, conserving or restoring the places where they live, mitigating obstacles to migration and controlling other factors that might endanger them.

United States laws and regulations

The Whaling Convention Act implements the ban on hunting right whales. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of the Department of Commerce has jurisdiction.

Under the Endangered Species Act
Endangered Species Act
The Endangered Species Act of 1973 is one of the dozens of United States environmental laws passed in the 1970s. Signed into law by President Richard Nixon on December 28, 1973, it was designed to protect critically imperiled species from extinction as a "consequence of economic growth and...

, E. japonica is listed as "endangered". Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act
Marine Mammal Protection Act
The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 was the first article of legislation to call specifically for an ecosystem approach to natural resource management and conservation. MMPA prohibits the taking of marine mammals, and enacts a moratorium on the import, export, and sale of any marine mammal,...

, all right whales, including E. japonica, were determined to be "depleted" in 1973 and remain so classified.

On 4 October 2000, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) petitioned NMFS to designate the southeast Bering Sea shelf from 55–60°N as critical habitat for E. japonica. On 20 February 2002, NMFS declined (67 FR 7660) at that time, arguing that available information was insufficient for such a finding. CBD challenged NMFS in court, and in June 2005, a federal judge directed the agency to make a designation. In 2006, NMFS complied, designating one in the Gulf of Alaska south of Kodiak Island and one in the southeast Bering Sea (71 FR 38277, 6 July 2006). Later, NMFS split the "northern right whale" into E. glacialis and E. japonica, and reissued its rule.

Critical habitats must contain one or more "primary constituent elements" (PCEs) that are essential to the conservation of the species. NMFS identified as PCEs:
  • species of large zooplankton in right whale feeding areas, in particular the copepods Calanus marshallae, Neocalanus cristatus, and Thysanoessa raschii
    Thysanoessa raschii
    Thysanoessa raschii, sometimes known as Arctic krill, is one of the most common euphausiid species of the subarctic and Arctic seas. They may reach long, and are sexually mature above ....

    whose high lipid
    Lipids constitute a broad group of naturally occurring molecules that include fats, waxes, sterols, fat-soluble vitamins , monoglycerides, diglycerides, triglycerides, phospholipids, and others...

     content and occurrence make them preferred prey items.
  • physical concentrating mechanisms, physical and biological features that aggregate prey into densities high enough to support efficient feeding.

NMFS simply used repeated right whale sightings in the same small area in spring and summer as a proxy for the presumed PCEs.
Conservation impact

These areas support extensive and multi-species commercial fisheries for pollock
Pollock is the common name used for either of the two species of marine fish in the Pollachius genus. Both P. pollachius and P. virens are commonly referred to as pollock. Other names for P...

, flatfish
The flatfish are an order of ray-finned fish, also called the Heterosomata, sometimes classified as a suborder of Perciformes. In many species, both eyes lie on one side of the head, one or the other migrating through and around the head during development...

, cod
Cod is the common name for genus Gadus, belonging to the family Gadidae, and is also used in the common name for various other fishes. Cod is a popular food with a mild flavor, low fat content and a dense, flaky white flesh. Cod livers are processed to make cod liver oil, an important source of...

, various crabs and other resources (but not salmon). NMFS ruled that these fisheries do not threaten PCE availability. NMFS also ruled that the zooplankton PCE was vulnerable to oil spills and discharges, which may require measures such as conditioning federal permits or authorizations with special operational constraints.

Once a critical habitat has been designated, federal agencies must consult with NMFS to ensure that any action they authorize, fund or carry out is unlikely to destroy or adversely modify it.

Recovery plans

NMFS adopted a Final Recovery Plan for the North Atlantic right whale, but not for E. japonica. NMFS created a Northern right whale Recovery Team in July 1987. After public review of a Draft Recovery Plan, in December 1991, NMFS approved the Final Recovery Plan for the Northern right whale (including both the North Atlantic and North Pacific right whales). (The factors affecting the continued survival of the Northern right whale identified in that plan are discussed above in the section on threats to the continued survival of E. japonicas)

After the species split, NMFS revised its plan, limiting it to the North Atlantic right whale. NMFS is developing a separate recovery for the North Pacific right whale. issuing a status review in December 2006.

Canadian regulation

In Canada, some right whales had been caught in the early 20th century from whaling stations off northern Vancouver Island. However, there have been no sightings of right whales in Canadian waters since the large illegal Soviet kill in the 1960s, much of which took place in the eastern Bering Sea. Nevertheless, in 2003, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Fisheries and Oceans Canada, frequently referred to as DFO , is the department within the government of Canada that is responsible for developing and implementing policies and programs in support of Canada's economic, ecological and scientific interests in oceans and inland waters...

 issued a National Recovery Strategy for E. japonica in Pacific Canadian Waters, followed, in February 2007, by a draft plan.

Whaling prior to 1835

In Japan, hunting for right whales dates back at least to the 16th century, although stranded whales had been utilized for centuries before then. In 1675, Yoriharu Wada invented a new method of whaling, entangling the animals in nets before harpooning them. Initially the nets were made of straw
Straw is an agricultural by-product, the dry stalks of cereal plants, after the grain and chaff have been removed. Straw makes up about half of the yield of cereal crops such as barley, oats, rice, rye and wheat. It has many uses, including fuel, livestock bedding and fodder, thatching and...

, later replaced by the stronger hemp
Hemp is mostly used as a name for low tetrahydrocannabinol strains of the plant Cannabis sativa, of fiber and/or oilseed varieties. In modern times, hemp has been used for industrial purposes including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, health food and fuel with modest...

. A hunting group consisted of 15–20 Seko-bune or "beater" boats, 6 Ami-bune or netting boats and 4 Mosso-bune or tug boats, for a total of 30–35 boats with crews totaling about 400. In addition to right whales, they took gray whales and humpback whales.

Hunts took place in two regions: the south coast (Mie, Wakayama and Kochi prefectures) on the east coasts, and the waters north of the prefectures from Kyoto to Yamaguchi and to the west of Kyushu which hunted in the Sea of Japan. Off the south coast of Japan, hunting lasted from winter to spring. Catches in Kochi prefecture between 1800 and 1835 totaled 259 whales. Catches at Ine on the Sea of Japan during the periods 1700–1850 averaged less than 1 per year. Catches at Kawaijiri also on the Sea of Japan averaged 2 per year from 1699–1818.

A few Native American
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

 tribes hunted in the North Pacific. Their catches were much lower than the Japanese. The Inuit along the western and northwestern coasts of Alaska have hunted whales for centuries. However, they prefer the bowhead whale, and occasionally the gray whale. They hunted at or beyond the northern limits of the right whale's range.

Aleuts hunted E. japonica and Gray whales along the Aleutian Islands and the Alaska peninsula, using poisoned harpoons. The catch was not recorded, but is unlikely to be more than a few per year.

The Nootka
Nootka may refer to:* The Nuu-chah-nulth indigenous peoples and their Nuu-chah-nulth language* The place called Nootka Sound* The island known as Nootka Island* The three treaties signed in the 1790s, known as the Nootka Conventions...

, Makah, Quilleute and Auinault tribes of Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island is a large island in British Columbia, Canada. It is one of several North American locations named after George Vancouver, the British Royal Navy officer who explored the Pacific Northwest coast of North America between 1791 and 1794...

 and the coast of Washington were also skilled whalers of the gray and humpback whales. Right whales were rare in their catches.

The North Pacific was the furthest whaling ground from New England and Europe markets. During the open-boat whaling era, the mainly American ships hunted in the nearest ranges first. As the fleet grew, boats spread to the eastern North Atlantic and, by the 1770s, the South Atlantic. Following the lead of the British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, American vessels first sailed the South Pacific in 1791, and by the end of the decade had reached the eastern North Pacific. By the 1820s, the whalers had started to use Lahaina, Hawaii as a base for hunting sperm whale
Sperm Whale
The sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus, is a marine mammal species, order Cetacea, a toothed whale having the largest brain of any animal. The name comes from the milky-white waxy substance, spermaceti, found in the animal's head. The sperm whale is the only living member of genus Physeter...


Pelagic: 1835–1850

In 1835, the French whale ship Gange ventured north of 50°N and became the first pelagic whaling ship to catch a North Pacific right whale. News of this find spread quickly. Whale ships north of 50° increased from 2 in 1839 to 108 in 1843 and to 292 in 1846. Approximately 90% of the whale ships were American, the remainder primarily French.

The focus of the North Pacific whaling fleet on right whales ended soon after 1848, when a whaler ventured through the Bering Straits and discovered unexploited populations of bowhead whales. Being more abundant, easier to capture, and yielding far more baleen, the majority of whalers rapidly switched to hunting bowheads. Since bowheads range further north than right whales, hunting pressure on right whales declined rapidly.

The estimated total catch in the fishery in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea, North Pacific and Sea of Okhotsk was 26,500–37,000 right whales between 1839 and 1909. 80 percent of this catch was concentrated in the single decade of 1840–49.

Industrial: 1850–1960s

In the decade between 1850 and 1859, the catch dropped to 3,000–4,000 animals, one-sixth the previous level. Between 1860 and 1870, it dropped to 1,000 animals. By the end of the 19th century, pelagic whalers averaged less than 10 right whales per year.

In the late 19th century, steam propulsion and the explosive harpoon opened up new whaling opportunities. Species previously too swift to hunt commercially could now be caught—Blue and fin whale
Fin Whale
The fin whale , also called the finback whale, razorback, or common rorqual, is a marine mammal belonging to the suborder of baleen whales. It is the second longest whale and the sixth largest living animal after the blue whale, bowhead whale, and right whales, growing to nearly 27 metres long...

s. Small coastal whaling operations opened in California, Oregon, and Washington, British Columbia, and in the Aleutian Islands and in southeast Alaska, and in the Kuril Islands in the west. Whalers hunted by day, towing their catch to shore for flensing
Flensing is the removing of the outer integument of whales. English whalemen called it "flenching", while American whalemen called it "cutting-in".-Open-boat:-Shore and Bay whaling:...

, operating in a fairly small area around the whaling stations. Although they weren't the primary targets, a few right whales were recorded in catches from these stations. A close-up photo of a North Pacific right whale taken at the Kyuquot whaling station, British Columbia
British Columbia
British Columbia is the westernmost of Canada's provinces and is known for its natural beauty, as reflected in its Latin motto, Splendor sine occasu . Its name was chosen by Queen Victoria in 1858...

 in 1918 can be seen here.

The later "factory ships" that processed carcasses while at sea further transformed pelagic whaling. Right whales continued to be taken, although uncommonly due to their rarity. Japan continued hunting right whales through the beginning of World War II. Afterward, General Douglas MacArthur
Douglas MacArthur
General of the Army Douglas MacArthur was an American general and field marshal of the Philippine Army. He was a Chief of Staff of the United States Army during the 1930s and played a prominent role in the Pacific theater during World War II. He received the Medal of Honor for his service in the...

, head of Allied occupation forces, encouraged the Japanese to resume whaling to feed their hungry population. However, Japan then joined the International Whaling Commission which barred the hunting of right whales. Except for 13 killed under "scientific permits", in accordance with IWC rules, Japanese whalers have honored this prohibition.

Illegal Soviet Whaling: 1963–1968

The same cannot be said for Soviet whalers. In the 1960s, Soviet whalers had no international observers on board, and no conservation groups following them at sea. The Soviet whalers apparently honored the prohibition on taking right whales until 1963, by which time populations of humpback, blue and fin whales were getting harder to find in the North Pacific. Between 1963 and 1968, the Soviet whalers ignored the ban on hunting right whales, and apparently killed every right whale they could find. The Soviet government then filed fraudulent reports with the Bureau of International Whaling Statistics and the International Whaling Commission, admitting killing only one right whale, by accident.

In 2006, former Soviet biologist Nikolai Doroshenko revealed records of 372 right whales being illegally killed by the Soviet Vladivostok and Dalnij Vostok whaling fleets in the Bering Sea and eastern North Pacific between 1963 and 1968. He also documented an additional 126 right whales illegally killed in the Sea of Okhotsk between 1963 and 1968 and another 10 in the Kuril Islands in 1971. The Russian biologists who had been on the whaling ships were prohibited from examining the carcasses or taking any biological measurements of these whales. Nevertheless, the biologists kept their own records of what the whalers actually caught, then kept these records secret for more than two decades. After the collapse of the Soviet government, the new Russian government released at least part of the data on the true catch data.

In 2011, it was discovered that even this illegal catch may underestimate the total catch. There was a third Soviet whaling fleet, the Sovetskaya Rossiya, operating in the Gulf of Alaska in 1962–1963 that caught 142 right whales that appear to be additional to the 372 previously revealed. Of the whales killed by the Sovetskaya Rossiya fleet, 112 were killed in June 1963 in the central and northern Gulf of Alaska.

Adding the 142 right whales killed by this fleet to the prior revelations brings the known total of illegal Soviet catches in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska to 514 whales plus 136 right whales in the Sea Okhotsk and the Kuril Islands.

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