In the southeast Bering Sea, there is an oceanographic buoy deployed by the Pacific Marine Environmental Lab. Attached to it is an acoustic recorder for detecting right whale calls. This buoy's name is Peggy.
meet a scientist
Jessica works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and is unaffiliated with Save the North Pacific Right Whale
Most years, Jessica spends part of her time analyzing research and writing papers, and the other part out in the North Pacific or Bering Sea looking for right whales. She uses underwater recording devices to listen for the whales. By listening for them, she is able to get an idea of their range and movements without having to see them from the surface.
An awesome discovery
Jessica has spent so much time listening to right whales that she was able to turn a previous assumption on its head. Originally, scientists thought that right whales didn't sing, unlike many other baleen whales. But Jessica looked at acoustic data collected over 10 years and found repeating patterns, proving that North Pacific right whales did indeed sing! She hopes to discover why this population sings, and whether this occurs in other right whale populations as well.
Photo courtesy of Jessica Crance: Jessica deploying a device to record North Pacific right whale calls.
Dana Wright is a conservation biologist interested in the distribution of rare and recovering species across multiple spatial and temporal scales. Her research focuses on cetacean (whale and dolphin) species in the North Pacific. She is currently working on her PhD at the Duke University Marine Lab and is also a Research Scientist for the University of Washington Cooperative Institute for Climate, Ocean, and Ecosystem Studies.
Where do they go?
Dana’s latest project is to look at natural chemical tracers in archived North Pacific right whale tissues to reconstruct the whales' past diet and distribution. Part of her dataset includes baleen plates from the whaling era (dating as far back as 1862!). Baleen is a tissue that grows continuously from the upper gum of right whales in lieu of teeth, similar to how hair grows continuously from our heads (it's actually made of the same stuff - keratin!). The continuous growth of baleen acts as a multi-year recorder of the whale's diet, physiology, and distribution via the natural chemical tracers. Dana can therefore sample along the baleen plates to reconstruct a time-series of these historical whales' diet and distribution. These data provide important baseline data that can be used when assessing population recovery of North Pacific right whales. You can learn more about her research on her website.
Photo courtesy of Dana Wright: Dana working on a North Pacific right whale baleen plate.
Right Whale Research
Below is a list of scientific papers published about North Pacific right whales. You can also check out a website put together by Jim Scarff with recent sightings, records, and a suggested reading list.
Songs & acoustics
Marques, TA., et al. 2011. Estimating North Pacific right whale Eubalaena japonica density using passive acoustic cue counting. Endangered Species Research; 13: 163-172. doi: 10.3354/esr00325.
Munger, L., et al. 2008. North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica) seasonal and diel calling patterns from long-term acoustic recordings in the Southeastern Bering Sea, 2000-2006. Marine Mammal Science; 24 (4): 795-814. DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2008.00219.x
Rolland, RM., et al. 2012. Evidence that ship noise increases stress in right whales. Proceedings of Biological Sciences; 279(1737): 2363-2368. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2011.2429
Wade, R., et al. 2006. Acoustic detection and satellite-tracking leads to discovery of rare concentration of endangered North Pacific right whales. Biology Letters; 2: 417-419. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2006.0460.
Waite, JM., et al. 2003. Documented sighting of a North Pacific right whale in the Gulf of Alaska and post-sighting acoustic monitoring. Northwestern Naturalist; 84: 38-43.
Wright, DL., et al. 2019. Acoustic detection of the critically endangered North Pacific right whale in the northern Bering Sea. Marine Mammal Science; 35 (1): 311-326. DOI: 10.1111/mms.12521.
Wright, DL., et al. 2018. Acoustic detection of North Pacific right whales in a high-traffic Aleutian Pass, 2009-2015. Endangered Species Research; 37: 77-90.
LeDuc, RG., et al. 2012. Genetic analysis of right whales in the eastern North Pacific confirms severe extirpation risk. Endangered Species Research; 18: 163-167. doi: 10.3354/esr00440.
Rosenbaum, HC., et al. 2001. World-wide genetic differentiation of Eubalaena: questioning the number of right whale species. Molecular Ecology; 9: 1793-1802.
Sightings & distribution
Brownell, RL., et al. 2001. Conservation status of North Pacific right whales. Journal of Cetacean Research; 2: 269-286.
Filatova, OA., et al. 2019. First encounter of the North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica) in the waters of Chukotka. Aquatic Mammals; 45 (4): 425-429. DOI 10.1578/AM.45.4.2019.425
Ford, JKB., et al. 2016. Recent observation of critically endangered North Pacific right whales (Eubalaena japonica) off the west coast of Canada. Marine Biodiversity Records; 9 (50): 1-7. Doi: 10.1186/s41200-016-0036-3.
Gendron, D., et al. 1999. North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) sighting south of Baja California. Aquatic Mammals; 25 (1): 31-34.
Muto, MM., et al. 2020. North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica): Eastern North Pacific Stock. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency.
Ovsyanikova, E., et al. 2015. Opportunistic sightings of the endangered North Pacific right whales (Eubalaena japonica) in Russian waters in 2003-2014. Marine Mammal Science; 1-10. doi: 10.1111/mms.12243.
Salden DR. and Mickelsen J. 1999. Rare sighting of a North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) in Hawaii. Pacific Science; 53 (4): 341-345.
Wade, PR., et al. 2011. The world’s smallest whale population? Biology Letters; 7: 83-85. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2010.0477.
Clapham, P., et al. 2004. Distribution of north Pacific right whales (Eubalaena japonica) as shown by 19th and 20th century whaling catch and sighting records. Journal of Cetacean Research Management; 6 (1): 1-6.
Scarff, JE. 2001. Preliminary estimates of whaling-induced mortality in the 19th century North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica) fishery, adjusting for struck-but-lost whales and non-American whaling. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management; 2: 261-268.
Scarff, JE. 1991. Historic distribution and abundance of the right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) in the North Pacific, Bering Sea, and Sea of Okhotsk and Sea of Japan from the Maury whale charts. Report of the International Whaling Commission; 41: 467-489.
Scarff, JE. 1986. Historic and Present Distribution of the Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) in the 1Eastern North Pacific South of 50˚N and East of 180˚W. Report of the International Whaling Commission; 10: 43-63.
Shelden, KEW., et al. 2005. Historic and current habitat use by North Pacific right whales Eubalaena japonica in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Mammal Review; 35: 129-155.
National Marine Fisheries Service. 2017. North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica) five-year review: summary and evaluation. National Marine Fisheries Service, Office of Protected Resources, Silver Spring, MD.
National Marine Fisheries Service. 2013. Final Recovery Plan for the North Pacific Right Whale (Eubalaena japonica). National Marine Fisheries Service, Office of Protected Resources, Silver Spring, MD.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 2008. Endangered and threatened species; designation of critical habitat for North Pacific right whale. Federal Register; 73 (68): 19000-19014.
Are we missing an important paper? Contact us and we'll add it!
Additional site resources
Map images in Recent Sightings and Rescue Plan from Google MyMaps. 2022. Map data from Google, INEGI. Right whale data from papers cited above. Critical Habitat data from NOAA.
North Pacific right whale photos courtesy of NOAA and IWC, 2009-2017.
Right whale illustrations by Inez Chiapella.