Spotlighting North Pacific Right Whales – An Interview with NOAA Fisheries Scientist Jessica Crance


[♪ and rushing water] ♪ Jessica Crance: The North Pacific right whale is a large baleen whale and they can grow to be about fifty-five feet long. It’s split into two populations, the western and eastern, and the eastern North Pacific right whale is one of the most critically endangered large whales in the world. With only 30 individuals left, If they go extinct, it’s highly likely that we would never see any more right whales in the eastern Bering Sea or along the west coast of the U.S. Before whaling they used to cover the entire Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. And now their distribution range is quite small. It’s mainly just the southeastern Bering Sea. Their summer feeding grounds are in areas of high fishing activity and high vessel traffic, so the two main threats for the species are ships strikes and entanglements. Unfortunately, we know very little about these whales. We don’t know where their migration routes are. We don’t know where their breeding grounds are. We need to get as much information about these animals as we can in order to help conserve and protect them. One of the ways that we can monitor for them year-round is by listening using passive acoustic recorders and then in addition, when we’re out at sea we can deploy sonobouys and find them in real-time, which will then allow us to get photo ID photographs, biopsy samples, behavioral data. This summer, 2017, I was able to join the International Whaling Commission’s Power Cruise, which was surveying the eastern Bering Sea, and during the survey, using sonobouys, we were able to locate fifteen right whales and collect photo ID photographs from twelve. Of the twelve photographed animals, four individuals were new. Of those four individuals, one was a juvenile. The discovery of the juvenile is really exciting. It means there’s at least one reproductive female, and it’s the first non-adult we’ve seen since 2004, so it was a really fantastic sighting to see evidence of breeding happening somewhere. With the information we’ve gathered we have already established a critical habitat on their known feeding grounds, but if we can get more information about their migration routes or their possible breeding grounds, then we can start to really focus our research efforts and our conservation efforts to help better protect that species.

local_offerevent_note September 26, 2019

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