Vancouver Island, British Columbia was a hub for whaling activity. Stations along the shore were set up to process the caught whales, turning them into oil.
North Pacific right whale hunting was at its high in 1840-1850, when 30,000 whales were killed. Their population was brought even lower in the 1960’s, when illegal Soviet whaling occurred.
Historically North Pacific right whales could be found almost anywhere in the North Pacific or southern Bering Sea. Data from whaling log books was used to create a historic distribution map showing Japan and Baja California as the southern end of their range and the Bering Straits as the northern boundary. Interestingly we still don’t know the location of the North Pacific right whale calving ground. This will be critical to locate and protect in order to recover these whales.
Right whales were given their name because they were considered the “right” whale to kill. They were comparatively slow, yielded large amounts of baleen and oil, and floated when you killed them, making them a good target for whalers.
Right whales were the first species of whale to be hunted by commercial whalers and have been hunted in the Atlantic since the 11th century.
Starting in 1839 commercial whalers began heavily targeting North Pacific right whales, killing an estimated 30,000 whales in the ten years between 1840 – 1850. Although “commercially extinct” by the late 19th century, North Pacific right whales were not legally protected until 1935 when they joined grey whales and the other two species of right whales as the first whales ever protected worldwide.
North Pacific right whale populations slowly recovered in the first half of the 20th century until illegal soviet whaling killed 771 whales before it ceased in 1968. This was thought to be the bulk of the population.
Following multiple lawsuits brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the US recognized North Pacific right whales as their own species Eubalaena japonica in 2008. North Pacific right whales are now considered endangered by the US, Canada and the IUCN.
Center for Biological Diversity and Save the North Pacific Right Whale filed a petition to the federal government to expand the critical habitat for North Pacific right whales. Critical habitat expansion is currently in review. Read about the petition here.