Sightings since the '70s
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Sightings by Region
Sightings by Month
February 2022: In early February, a fishing boat came across a group of feeding whales. Amongst the humpbacks and fin whales were two North Pacific right whales.
As far as scientists know, this is the first sighting of NPRWs in the Bering Sea in the winter, a location that is frequented by the whales in the summer. They’ve heard the whales in the area year-round, but never seen them. To get a sighting of feeding behavior is even more important, because it means that there is food for the whales here, even in the colder months.
Cheers to Josh Trosvig and the cod fishing vessel Cerulean, who saw whales they were unfamiliar with, and wanted to know more. Encounters like this are critical to saving the species, because we learn more about this endangered whale with each sighting. It also gets the word out, and means more folks who are on the water daily will keep their eyes out for North Pacific right whales.
These whales were seen near Unimak Pass, which is a major shipping channel between North America and Asia and sees a lot of boat traffic. NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Coast Guard are asking mariners to go slow, keep their eyes out for these whales and keep their distance in order to minimize the risk of ship strikes.
You can read more about the sighting and watch a video of the whales in the NOAA Fisheries article here.
August 2021: Four right whales were spotted by a NOAA whale survey in the Gulf of Alaska! They were sighted in pairs off Kodiak Island, two on August 21st and two on the 24th. Of the two whales seen on the 21st, one was new and one was the whale seen in June 2021 off Haida Gwaii. On the 24th, one whale was new and one was a whale previously seen nearby in 2006. Read NOAAs article about the sightings!
Below are two photos from the August 21st sighting, taken by NOAA researchers during their survey.
June 2021: Jared Towers and James Pilkington, scientists with Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, just spent two weeks surveying the west coast of Haida Gwaii in search of North Pacific right whales. On their second-to-last day, they finally found one. They followed it for the rest of the day and the next morning, collecting scat and food samples, photos and footage. This information will be able to tell us if it’s a known whale or a new one, the sex of the whale, and whether it’s pregnant. Jared’s post about the sighting can be found here. “It really gave me a sense of what our oceans should look like,” said Jared. ”This massive creature evolved on our coast and belongs here.” In the past decade, right whales have been spotted twice in the same area, once in 2013 and once in 2018. Photos by Jared Towers.
Spotlight on the Spotters
Below are a few of the lucky people to have seen a North Pacific right whale! If you've seen one, and want to share your story, please reach out to us! We'd love to chat.
Date: May, 2020
Location: West coast of Vancouver Island, Canada
Likeke knew very little about right whales when he was standing on a container ship one afternoon in 2020. They were heading north to Anchorage and he saw the spray of water from a whale breath ahead of them. He ran out to capture it on video, and was lucky enough to have a few resources tucked into his back pocket to help him identify it: a chart of North Pacific whales on the wall of the bridge and a crewmember who knew a lot about marine life. “It was beautiful, it was wonderful,” he said about the sighting. He later reached out to scientists to confirm the sighting was indeed a right whale. Even months later, he stated that the experience “was exciting. It’s still exciting.”
Photo credit: Likeke Goings, the location of the ship at the time of the sighting, marked on a nautical chart.
Date: May, 1992
Location: off the coast of Washington State
A large part of Ed’s career was spent freelancing on marine mammal surveys all over the world. On an aerial survey in 1992, Ed was looking out an airplane window when a whale was spotted a little off their current track. They decided to go check it out, and lo and behold it was a right whale. As they flew near it, the survey crew all conferred over their headsets, and determined that “yes! This is a North Pacific right whale!” The loud plane was disturbing the whale, so they didn’t stay to observe it for long, but Ed was enthusiastic about the sighting nonetheless, “especially on the Washington coast, it was nice to have that in our pocket.”
Paper published about the sighting: Rowlett, R.A., G.A. Green, C.E. Bowlby, and M. Smultea. 1994. The first photographic documentation of a Northern Right Whale off Washington state. Northwestern Naturalist. 75:102-104.
Boats in the Whales' range
There are shipping lanes throughout the North Pacific, and certain places like Unimak Pass in Alaska (where the most yellow and blue boats are on the left side of the map) are highways for both boats and right whales. Below is the ship traffic throughout the eastern North Pacific on January 18th, 2021. For real-time boat data, visit VesselFinder.
Fishing Activity in the Past Year
Global Fishing Watch tracks fishing activities across the globe, through ship trackers, databases and satellite images.
Global Fishing Watch. 2021. www.globalfishingwatch.org