Even though they are robust and spend lots of time at the water’s surface, North Pacific right whales are hard to spot. That’s because they are the world’s most endangered whale species according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
But despite their elusiveness, two extremely rare right whale sightings occurred off British Columbia this year. The first, in June, was the first sighting off B.C. since 1951.
Their total population is estimated to be beneath 50, largely due to commercial whaling efforts. Commercial whaling of right whales was banned in 1935 by international treaties, but they were illegally harvested in the ’60’s, reducing their number by a staggering 529.
The right whale was originally found in British Columbia, but since there had been no sightings in 62 years in the region, experts wondered if the whale species dwelled in Canadian waters any longer.
A sub-population of approximately 200 right whales summers in the western Pacific off Japan and north from Japan, but scientists can’t confirm if the population’s mix, so they consider them distinct.
The right whale discovered this October was 55 feet long, about 20 feet longer than the previous right whale spotted in June. It had scarring on its body thought to have originated from entanglement. The species is particularly prone to boat strikes and fishing nets due to its propensity to hang out near the surface.
Scientists hope to uncover the location of other rightwhales by listening to hydrophones, trying to pick up on their voices.
It is possible that the most recent right whale seen off B.C. was headed south, but the whales are so rare that they remain quite a mystery.
There have been a few sightings of the right whale off the West Coast of the United States over the last half-century, but sightings are so rare that they’re always considered monumental.
What scientists hope is that the two sightings in the B.C. region aren’t a coincidence, and that the population will begin to recover.