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Distribution of North Pacific Right Whales (Eubalaena japonica) as shown by 19th and 20th century whaling catch and sighting records

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North Pacific right whales (Eubalaena japonica) were extensively exploited in the 19 th century, and their recovery was further retarded (severely so in the eastern population) by illegal Soviet catches in the 20 th century, primarily in the 1960s. Monthly plots of right whale sightings and catches from both the 19 th and 20 th centuries are provided, using data summarised by Scarff (1991, from the whale charts of Matthew Fontaine Maury) and Brownell et al. (2001), respectively. Right whales had an extensive offshore distribution in the 19 th century, and were common in areas (such as the Gulf of Alaska and Sea of Japan) where few or no right whales occur today. Seasonal movements of right whales are apparent in the data, although to some extent these reflect survey and whaling effort. That said, these seasonal movements indicate a general northward migration in spring from lower latitudes, and major concentrations above 40°N in summer. Sightings diminished and occurred further south in autumn, and few animals were recorded anywhere in winter. These north-south migratory movements support the hypothesis of two largely discrete populations of right whales in the eastern and western North Pacific. Overall, these analyses confirm that the size and range of the right whale population is now considerably diminished in the North Pacific relative to the situation during the peak period of whaling for this species in the 19 th century. For management purposes, new surveys are urgently required to establish the present distribution of this species; existing data suggest that the Bering Sea, the Gulf of Alaska, the Okhotsk Sea, the Kuril Islands and the coast of Kamchatka are the areas with the greatest likelihood of finding right whales today.
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US Department of Commerce
Publications, Agencies and Staff of the U.S.
Department of Commerce
University of Nebraska - Lincoln Year 
Distribution of North Pacific right whales
(Eubalaena japonica) as shown by 19th
and 20th century whaling catch and
sighting records
Phillip J. ClaphamCaroline GoodSara E. Quinn
Randall R. Reeves∗∗ James E. Scarff†† Robert L. Brownell, Jr.‡‡
Large Whale Biology Program, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, 166 Water Street,
Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA, Phillip.Clapham@noaa.gov
Office of Protected Resources, NOAA Fisheries, 135 East-West Highway, Silver Spring,
MD 20910, USA.
Large Whale Biology Program, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, 166 Water Street,
Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA
∗∗Okapi Wildlife Associates, 27 Chandler Lane, Hudson, Quebec J0P 1H0, Canada
††1807 M.L. King Way #A, Berkeley, CA 94709, USA
‡‡Southwest Fisheries Science Center, 1352 Lighthouse Avenue, Pacific Grove, CA 93950,
USA
This paper is posted at DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska - Lincoln.
http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/usdeptcommercepub/95
Distribution of North Pacific right whales (Eubalaena japonica)
as shown by 19
th
and 20
th
century whaling catch and sighting
records
Phillip J. Clapham
*
, Caroline Good
+
, Sara E. Quinn
*
, Randall R. Reeves
#
, James E. Scarff
**
and Robert L.
Brownell, Jr.
++
Contact e-mail: phillip.clapham@noaa.gov
ABSTRACT
North Pacific right whales (Eubalaena japonica) were extensively exploited in the 19
th
century, and their recovery was further retarded
(severely so in the eastern population) by illegal Soviet catches in the 20
th
century, primarily in the 1960s. Monthly plots of right whale
sightings and catches from both the 19
th
and 20
th
centuries are provided, using data summarised by Scarff (1991, from the whale charts of
Matthew Fontaine Maury) and Brownell et al. (2001), respectively. Right whales had an extensive offshore distribution in the 19
th
century,
and were common in areas (such as the Gulf of Alaska and Sea of Japan) where few or no right whales occur today. Seasonal movements
of right whales are apparent in the data, although to some extent these reflect survey and whaling effort. That said, these seasonal
movements indicate a general northward migration in spring from lower latitudes, and major concentrations above 40°N in summer.
Sightings diminished and occurred further south in autumn, and few animals were recorded anywhere in winter. These north-south
migratory movements support the hypothesis of two largely discrete populations of right whales in the eastern and western North Pacific.
Overall, these analyses confirm that the size and range of the right whale population is now considerably diminished in the North Pacific
relative to the situation during the peak period of whaling for this species in the 19
th
century. For management purposes, new surveys are
urgently required to establish the present distribution of this species; existing data suggest that the Bering Sea, the Gulf of Alaska, the
Okhotsk Sea, the Kuril Islands and the coast of Kamchatka are the areas with the greatest likelihood of finding right whales today.
KEYWORDS: NORTH PACIFIC RIGHT WHALE; NORTH PACIFIC; DISTRIBUTION; WHALING – HISTORICAL; WHALING –
MODERN; WHALING – ILLEGAL; MIGRATION; CALVING
INTRODUCTION
North Pacific right whales (Eubalaena japonica) were
intensively hunted from 1835 (Scarff, 1986; 2001). The
species was depleted throughout its range by 1900, when it
had ceased to be a principal target of commercial whaling
(Scarff, 2001). Sporadic catches of right whales for
commercial and scientific purposes were reported in the
early 20
th
century, and it is now known that Soviet whalers
illegally killed at least 508 right whales in the North Pacific
from the 1950s to the early 1970s (Yablokov, 1994;
Doroshenko, 2000). These catches have retarded the
recovery of both the eastern and western North Pacific
populations; in particular, the catches had a devastating
impact on the former (Brownell et al., 2001).
Brownell et al. (2001) reviewed all known 20
th
century
sightings, strandings and catches of North Pacific right
whales. Earlier, Scarff (1986; 1991) examined the
distribution of 19
th
century right whale catches using the
whale charts compiled by Matthew Fontaine Maury (1851;
1852 et seq., 1853). To date, right whale locations contained
in these two large datasets have not been plotted together.
This paper provides monthly plots of North Pacific right
whale sightings and catches in order to investigate seasonal
movements, and to compare the distribution of this species in
the 19
th
and 20
th
centuries.
METHODS AND MATERIALS
Data sources
Nineteenth century
Data on 19
th
century catches and sightings of right whales
from whaling vessels were taken from Scarff’s (1991, table
3) summary of Maury’s whale charts (Maury, 1852). Few
copies of the Maury whale charts are available in public
libraries. A portion of one of these charts can be seen in
Scarff (1986, fig. 2).
It is important to recognise, however, that the Maury data
for the North Pacific have not been validated by direct
examination of his primary sources (whaler logbooks). A
recent study for the North Atlantic comparing data found in
the logbooks with what was depicted on Maury’s 1852 whale
chart has revealed major discrepancies (Reeves, T.D. Smith
and E. Josephson, pers. comm.).
A general description of Maury’s whale charts can be
found in Bannister and Mitchell (1980) and in Scarff (1991).
The data in Maury’s whale charts were shown in 5-degree
squares. For each of the 12 calendar months, Maury’s (1852
et seq.) whale chart displays the data as coloured histograms
reflecting the number of days on which (a) whale ships were
in the square; (b) right whales were seen; and (c) sperm
whales were seen. Scarff (1991) shows numerically the
following data: (a) and (b)/(a), the latter figure described as
the percentage of days on which right whales were seen,
*
Large Whale Biology Program, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, 166 Water Street, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA.
+
Office of Protected Resources, NOAA Fisheries, 135 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910, USA.
#
Okapi Wildlife Associates, 27 Chandler Lane, Hudson, Quebec J0P 1H0, Canada.
**
1807 M.L. King Way #A, Berkeley, CA 94709, USA.
++
Southwest Fisheries Science Center, 1352 Lighthouse Avenue, Pacific Grove, CA 93950, USA.
J. CETACEAN RES. MANAGE. 6(1):1–6, 2004 1
This article is a U.S. government work, and is not subject to copyright in the United States.
which represents a crude index of abundance adjusted for
effort. Thus, the Maury charts provide a useful overview of
where North Pacific right whales were 2and were not 2
found in the first half of the 19
th
century.
Twentieth century
Records of 20
th
century right whale sightings and catches
were taken from the comprehensive review by Brownell et
al. (2001). This dataset includes sightings of 1,965 animals,
as well as 741 catches, from 1900 to 2000; these are
summarised in Table 1. Thirteen strandings of right whales
(12 from the western and one from the eastern North Pacific)
were ignored for the purpose of the present analysis.
Records of right whales from the plots of catch positions
given by C.H. Townsend (1935) were not included. There is
likely to be considerable overlap between the Maury and
Townsend data, but the extent of this problem has yet to be
systematically investigated.
Plots
Monthly plots of the right whale data were created using
ArcView Geographic Information System software. The
data from Scarff (1991) were plotted by 5-degree square as
they appear in his table 3, but corrected for errors. Negative
data (i.e. cases in which search effort was made by whalers
but no right whales were seen) were also plotted. A few
records of whales involving locations at latitudes above
60
o
N were presumed to be of bowhead whales (Balaena
mysticetus) and were ignored. While Scarff (1991) considers
the 50 days of sightings made in the period May to August
between 60° and 65°N and 165° to 170°W to have been of
right whales, a more conservative approach is taken in this
analysis and these are excluded from the plots.
For the 20
th
century data from Brownell et al. (2001), each
record was plotted with a precise position, if available. In
cases in which locations were reported to within a 5 or
10-degree square, the midpoint of that square was used. In
most cases, the exact number of right whales sighted or
killed was available, but in some instances only a range was
given; in these cases, the midpoint of the range was plotted.
In some instances, location information was insufficient to
allow a record to be plotted, and such records were therefore
excluded.
The 20
th
century dataset already included all locations of
right whales reported by Japanese sighting surveys.
However, additional data on the effort involved in most of
those surveys (those from 1964 to 1990) were taken from the
maps provided by Miyashita et al. (1995) in order to show
areas where search effort existed but no sightings of right
whales were made.
RESULTS
Figs 1 to 12 show the reported locations of right whales for
the months of January to December, respectively. Fig. 13
shows additional 20
th
century records for which information
was available for location but not month of sighting. A
general narrative summary of distribution by month (as well
as of areas in which there was search effort but no right
whale sightings) is given in Table 2.
DISCUSSION
Overview
From the data presented here, several observations can be
made. First, the historic distribution of right whales as shown
by the Maury data was often different from that seen in the
20
th
century plots. For example, the historic data show that
CLAPHAM et al.: DISTRIBUTION OF NORTH PACIFIC RIGHT WHALES2
virtually the entire Gulf of Alaska seems to have been used
as a summering ground, together with adjacent waters off the
coasts of British Columbia, the Alaska Peninsula and the
southeastern Bering Sea. Similarly, right whales were once
abundant in the Sea of Japan, an area from which they are
largely absent today.
Overall, the geographic distribution of the species in the
North Pacific was considerably greater in the 19
th
century
than it appears to be in modern times (Scarff, 1991). This is
not surprising since most of the species was removed by
whaling. The remaining animals appear to constitute two
relatively discrete remnant populations (Brownell et al.,
2001). The size of the western population, much of which is
believed to summer in the Okhotsk Sea, is not clear. Data
from Japanese minke whale sighting surveys in the Okhotsk
Sea in 1989, 1990 and 1992 were used to calculate an
estimate of abundance of 922 (CV= 0.433; IWC, 2001,
p.22), although both positive and negative potential biases
were identified in the survey methodology. Noting the wide
confidence intervals associated with this survey, we do not
believe that an abundance in the high hundreds is consistent
with other sighting data on this population (see Brownell et
al., 2001), and suggest that the western populations size is
likely to be smaller than this.
Figs 1-12. Reported distribution of North Pacific right whales by month from January to December, respectively. Sources are 19
th
century whaling
records (Scarff, 1991, from Maury, 1852), and 20
th
century sighting and whaling catch data (Brownell et al., 2001). Note that because of the
different nature of the source information, 19
th
and 20
th
century records are represented by different measures (percentage of search days on which
right whales were recorded, and number of right whales recorded, respectively). All 20
th
century sightings are indicated by circles of varying size
depending on number of whales seen (see key). Nineteenth century records were summarised by 5-degree square and plotted using different degrees
of shading (see key). Outlined squares with no shading in them indicate squares for which there was known 19
th
century search effort but in which
no right whale sightings were recorded. Hatching indicates squares that were surveyed by Japanese sighting surveys from 1964-1990, but where
no right whale sightings were made (Miyashita et al., 1995). Blank areas with no border or incomplete borders indicate no sightings and no search
effort of any kind in either the Maury data or the Japanese sighting surveys. Fig. 13. Reported distribution of North Pacific right whales in the 20
th
century from records for which there was information on location but not the month of sighting. Data from Brownell et al. (2001).
J. CETACEAN RES. MANAGE. 6(1):16, 2004 3
Following catches of 372 right whales by Soviet pelagic
whaling operations (primarily in the 1960s; Doroshenko,
2000), the eastern North Pacific population is believed to
contain fewer (perhaps far fewer) whales than the western
population (LeDuc et al., 2001). Recent surveys,
photo-identification and genetic studies suggest that this
population may number in the tens of animals.
During much of the year, the historic distribution had a
large offshore component in deep water far from the coast.
By contrast, most of the 20
th
century sightings were
relatively close to land, notably off the Aleutian Islands and
in the Bering and Okhotsk Seas. Given the extensive
coverage of Japanese sighting surveys, this recent absence of
right whales in deep water cannot be wholly attributed to
Figs 1-13. Continued.
CLAPHAM et al.: DISTRIBUTION OF NORTH PACIFIC RIGHT WHALES4
lack of effort (see for example May, Fig. 5). Scarff (1991)
noted this offshore component of the Maury data and
suggested that North Pacific right whales may have wintered
and calved far offshore, rather than in the coastal habitats
which many North Atlantic right whales (E. glacialis) and
southern right whales (E. australis) are known to inhabit
during winter (Kraus et al., 1986; Best, 1990; Payne et al.,
1990). This is discussed further below.
Seasonal distribution
Overall movements
Seasonal movements of right whales are apparent in the data
presented here. To some extent these may reflect survey and
whaling effort rather than real migratory movement, and the
apparent movements summarised here must be considered
with that caveat in mind.
There were very few sightings of right whales anywhere in
January and February despite a certain amount of historical
effort, notably in offshore areas (Figs 1 and 2). There are also
few recent sightings of right whales in coastal waters at this
time, despite considerable whalewatching effort in some
locations (e.g. California and Baja California). In March,
most whale sightings appeared in the Maury data in a
latitudinal band between 30 and 40°N, reflecting that in
March over 90% of the whaling effort occurred south of
40°N. Other (though fewer) sightings occur further to the
north; in the Maury data, the area north of 45°N had
consistently high encounter rates even at this time of year,
albeit with small sample sizes.
By April, right whales were widely distributed from 35°N
and had penetrated the Bering Sea; by May and June there
were large numbers of sightings in both the Bering Sea and
the Gulf of Alaska. This pattern continued in July and
August, primarily north of 40°N, in both the Maury and the
20
th
century datasets. In September, the beginnings of a
southward movement were evident; current data suggest that
the last right whales leave the southeastern Bering Sea in
October. By October, right whales were primarily seen in
mid latitudes (30-50°N), and they largely disappear from the
records in November and December.
The movements that can be inferred from the combined
Maury and 20
th
century data are similar to those evident in
the seasonal distribution of North Pacific right whales shown
by Townsend (1935). Townsends maps show right whales
abundant in the Gulf of Alaska and adjacent areas (the
Northwest Ground) between May and August, with smaller
numbers in April and September (presumably reflecting
whales moving into and out of the area). Right whales were
also abundant both south and north of the Aleutians in May
and June, as well as in the Bering Sea in summer and early
autumn. Townsends maps show concentrations of whales
from the eastern coast of Kamchatka to the offshore waters
of the northwestern North Pacific from May to September,
with additional concentrations in the Okhotsk Sea in spring
and summer. Numerous records in the Sea of Japan in spring,
but far fewer in February and March, probably reflect a
northward migration towards the Sea of Okhotsk and Kuril
Islands; scattered catch positions in February in the Taiwan
Strait and the entrance to the Yellow Sea are indicative of a
northward migration from unknown wintering grounds (see
below). With the exception of a few records at the entrance
to the Yellow Sea in October, there is no indication in the
Townsend data of a parallel southward migration.
Overall, the north-south migratory movements evident in
all three datasets (Maury, Townsend and Brownell et al.)
provide support for the idea that two largely discrete
populations of right whales exist in the eastern and western
North Pacific.
Additional details of the apparent patterns of seasonal
movement are given below.
Eastern North Pacific
Right whales were rarely caught in the coastal whaling
fisheries along the western coast of North America (Scarff,
1986) and so there is less information on the seasonal
movements of this species than in the western regions of the
North Pacific Ocean. As noted above, the plots (notably
those from Maurys data) show a general movement
northward in spring and south again in autumn. Major
concentrations of summering whales occurred in the Gulf of
Alaska and eastern Bering Sea, and numerous animals were
also recorded in offshore waters for much of the year. The
historical importance of these offshore areas may never be
known, and the persistence of the species there today is
questionable given the great reduction in the size of the
population.
Western North Pacific
Omura (1986) postulated that there were two distinct
populations of right whales in the western North Pacific: the
Sea of Japan and Pacific stocks (taken here to mean
sub-populations). Historical catch data from Japanese
coastal whaling villages indicate that both populations
moved south in autumn and north again in the spring, with
the peak months being September to December and February
to April, respectively. The two putative populations were
kept apart during migration by the Japanese islands, with the
Sea of Japan stock moving along the western coasts, and the
Pacific stock travelling off the eastern coasts of the
archipelago. Omura (1986) suggested that the Pacific
population summered in the Kuril Islands, with some
animals moving further northeast and entering the Bering
Sea. In contrast, he suggested that the feeding grounds for
the Sea of Japan population lay primarily in the Okhotsk Sea,
although he recognised that there was little direct evidence to
support this belief.
As expected, the data presented here support the idea of a
southward movement in the autumn and a return migration
north in spring. Many whales moved into the Okhotsk Sea
during early summer, an event that presumably coincided
with the breakup of ice cover in the area. The Maury data
show significant numbers of right whales entering the
western Bering Sea by June, and remaining there until
September or October, when a general southward movement
is again evident in the sightings. However, it is important to
reiterate that during the entire period of spring to autumn,
right whales were also consistently dispersed in offshore
waters across a broad region of the North Pacific. This
prominent aspect of the right whales distribution in the 19
th
century is largely absent in the modern records, further
emphasising the considerable diminution of the species
range.
Whether there were (or are) two distinct sub-populations
of right whale in the western North Pacific remains unclear.
Catches of right whales by Japanese net whalers at Kawajiri
(a whaling village in Yamaguchi Prefecture on the Sea of
Japan) dropped sharply after 1859, a situation which Omura
(1986) attributes to the operation of American whale ships.
This may be a rather simplistic interpretation; presumably
the demise of the right whale in the Sea of Japan was due to
a combination of Yankee and coastal whaling, with 20
th
century recovery inhibited to an unknown extent by illegal
Soviet catches on the feeding grounds in the Okhotsk Sea.
J. CETACEAN RES. MANAGE. 6(1):16, 2004 5
Wintering/calving grounds
Where North Pacific right whales go in mid-winter, and
where they calve (presumably at this time of year), remains
unknown. For the putative Pacific and Sea of Japan
populations in the western North Pacific, Omura (1986)
suggested that the calving grounds probably lay to the south
of Japan; specifically, he proposed that right whales calved
around or near the Ryukyu Islands (with the implication
being that the two populations may have mixed there). There
is no reliable evidence with respect to the location of coastal
or insular wintering grounds in the eastern North Pacific.
Scarff (1986) speculated that right whales from the Gulf of
Alaska might migrate to calve near the coast of Kamchatka
or further south. We do not believe that any of the
Kamchatka coast could have been a calving ground; rather,
this area appears to represent a summer feeding habitat, with
sightings made in summer or early autumn.
Indeed, there are few data with which to further examine
this question. In the western North Pacific, the southernmost
sightings from Townsend (1935) are off Taiwan (7 records)
and at around 30°N off the Chinese coast (20 records); all are
from February or March. A few recent sightings have also
been reported from Chichi-jima (Bonin Islands, at 27°N) in
March and April (Brownell et al., 2001). In the eastern North
Pacific, the situation is even more obscure. There, the data
from winter are confined to a handful of 20
th
century
sightings from the western coast of North America, and
some sporadic offshore records in the Maury data. As noted
by Scarff (1986; 1991), there is no evidence from either
historical whaling records or archaeological investigations
of aboriginal hunting peoples that the coastal waters of
western North America ever contained a calving ground for
this species.
Our interpretation of the plots in this regard is that serious
consideration should be given to Scarffs (1986; 1991)
contention that North Pacific right whales wintered and
calved primarily in offshore, not coastal, waters. Indeed, the
record is conspicuously marked by a paucity of right whale
sightings from any nearshore area in winter, despite the
considerable likelihood of search effort from 19
th
century
(and earlier) coastal whaling communities in both Japan and
North America. In contrast, the apparent historical
abundance of right whales in offshore waters (in both Maury
and Townsends data) is too obvious to ignore. In light of
this, Scarff (1986, p.57) concludes:
The recent concentrations of scientific investigations on nearshore
populations of right whales off South America, South Africa, eastern
North America and Australia may have led to an exaggerated view of
the species coastal tendencies.
We agree that the offshore distribution of right whales has
been little studied. We suggest that researchers consider the
use of satellite telemetry to locate the many whales that go
missing in winter, a question which exists even for the
well-studied North Atlantic right whale.
Future work
The analyses presented here provide some direction
regarding future work on this species. In light of the small
size and highly endangered status of both the eastern and
western populations, establishing the present distribution of
right whales, and assessment of anthropogenic threats in the
habitats where they currently exist, should be a top priority
for management. Existing data suggest that the Bering Sea,
Okhotsk Sea, the Kuril Islands and the coast of Kamchatka
are the areas with the greatest likelihood of finding right
whales today. New surveys (including both
photo-identification and biopsy components) of these and
other regions of the North Pacific should be funded and
conducted in the near future.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
We are grateful to Richard Merrick and Fred Serchuk for
their reviews of this paper.
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CLAPHAM et al.: DISTRIBUTION OF NORTH PACIFIC RIGHT WHALES6
... A review of all 20th-century sightings, catches, and strandings of North Pacific right whales was conducted by Brownell et al. (2001). Data from this review were subsequently combined with historical whaling records to map the known distribution of the species (Fig. 1; Clapham et al. 2004. Although whaling records initially indicated that right whales ranged across the entire North Pacific north of 35N and occasionally as far south as 20N ( Fig. 1; Scarff 1986,1991), recent analysis shows a pronounced longitudinally bimodal distribution (Josephson et al. 2008a). ...
... However, in the eastern North Pacific no such calving grounds have been identified (Scarff 1986). Migratory patterns of North Pacific right whales are unknown, although it is thought they migrate from high-latitude feeding grounds in summer to more temperate waters during the winter, possibly well offshore (Braham and Rice 1984, Scarff 1986, Clapham et al. 2004. A right whale sighted off Maui in April 1996 (Salden and Michelsen 1999) was identified 119 days later and 4,111 km north in the Bering Sea . ...
... Aerial and vessel surveys for right whales have occurred in a portion of the southeastern Bering Sea (Fig. 1) where right whales have been observed most summers since 1996 (Goddard andRugh 1998, Rone et al. 2012). North Pacific right whales are observed consistently in this area, although it is clear from historical and Japanese sighting survey data that right whales often range outside this area and occur elsewhere in the Bering Sea LeDuc et al. 2001;Clapham et al. 2004). Bottommounted acoustic recorders were deployed in the southeastern Bering Sea and the northern Gulf of Alaska starting in 2000 to document the seasonal distribution of right whale calls . ...
... A review of all 20th-century sightings, catches, and strandings of North Pacific right whales was conducted by Brownell et al. (2001). Data from this review were subsequently combined with historical whaling records to map the known distribution of the species (Fig. 1; Clapham et al. 2004. Although whaling records initially indicated that right whales ranged across the entire North Pacific Ocean north of 35N and occasionally as far south as 20N ( Fig. 1; Scarff 1986,1991), analysis shows a pronounced longitudinally bimodal distribution (Josephson et al. 2008a). ...
... However, in the eastern North Pacific no such calving grounds have been identified (Scarff 1986). Migratory patterns of North Pacific right whales are unknown, although it is thought they migrate from high-latitude feeding grounds in summer to more temperate waters during the winter, possibly well offshore (Braham and Rice 1984, Scarff 1986, Clapham et al. 2004. A right whale sighted off Maui in April 1996 (Salden and Michelsen 1999) was identified 119 days later and 4,111 km north in the Bering Sea (Kennedy et al. 2011). ...
... Aerial and vessel surveys for right whales have occurred in a portion of the southeastern Bering Sea (Fig. 1) where right whales have been observed most summers between 1996 and 2010 (Goddard andRugh 1998, Rone et al. 2012). North Pacific right whales were observed consistently in this area, although it is clear from historical and Japanese sighting survey data that right whales often range outside this area and occur elsewhere in the Bering Sea LeDuc et al. 2001;Clapham et al. 2004). Bottom-mounted acoustic recorders were deployed in the southeastern Bering Sea (2000)(2001)(2002)(2003)(2004)(2005)(2006)(2007)(2008)(2009)(2010)(2011)(2012)(2013)(2014)(2015)(2016)(2017) and the northern Gulf of Alaska (1999Alaska ( -2001 to document the seasonal distribution of right whale calls . ...
... A review of all 20th century sightings, catches, and strandings of North Pacific right whales was conducted by Brownell et al. (2001). Data from this review were subsequently combined with historical whaling records to map the known distribution of the species (Fig. 1; Clapham et al. 2004. Although whaling records initially indicated that right whales ranged across the entire North Pacific north of 35N and occasionally as far south as 20N (Scarff 1986(Scarff , 1991 Fig. 1), recent analysis shows a pronounced longitudinally bimodal distribution (Josephson et al. 2008a). ...
... However, in the eastern North Pacific no such calving grounds have been identified (Scarff 1986). Migratory patterns of North Pacific right whales are unknown, although it is thought they migrate from high-latitude feeding grounds in summer to more temperate waters during the winter, possibly well offshore (Braham and Rice 1984, Scarff 1986, Clapham et al. 2004. A right whale sighted off Maui in April 1996 was identified 119 days later and 4,111 km north in the Bering Sea Michelsen 1999, Kennedy et al. 2011). ...
... Aerial and vessel surveys for right whales have occurred in recent years in a portion of the southeastern Bering Sea (Fig. 1) where right whales have been observed most summers since 1996 (Goddard and Rugh 1998. North Pacific right whales are observed consistently in this area, although it is clear from historical and Japanese sighting survey data that right whales often range outside this area and occur elsewhere in the Bering Sea LeDuc et al. 2001;Clapham et al. 2004). Bottom-mounted acoustic recorders were deployed in the southeastern Bering Sea and the northern Gulf of Alaska starting in 2000 to document the seasonal distribution of right whale calls ). ...
... As such, they appear to occupy a portion of their historical ranges (Figures 1, 2). Whaling logbooks have been useful in describing the distribution of the species prior to and during their exploitation (Dawbin, 1986;Du Pasquier, 1986;Reeves et al., 1992;Clapham et al., 2004;Reeves et al., 2007;Smith et al., 2012;Carroll et al., 2014;Rocha et al., 2014;Thomas et al., 2016) as well as identifying potential habitats that members of the modern populations may be reexploiting. ...
... The seasonal distribution of NPRW is largely understood through analysis of historical catch records and sightings data (Miyashita and Kato, 1998;Clapham et al., 2004), along with more recent visual and acoustic survey effort since the early 2000s. Critical Habitat for the eastern NPRW has been established in the southeast Bering Sea and in a small portion of the Gulf of Alaska based on consistent sightings in these areas (NOAA, 2008). ...
... In fall and spring, NPRW sightings and detections are much more diffuse across the species' range from South Korea, Japan, and the Okhotsk Sea through British Columbia and California (Brownell et al., 2001;Clapham et al., 2004;Ford et al., 2016), and acoustic detections are less common (Munger et al., 2008;Wright, 2015Wright, , 2016. ...
Article
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All three extant right whales [Eubalaena australis (Southern; SRW), glacialis (North Atlantic; NARW), and japonica (North Pacific; NPRW)] were heavily exploited, and the status of the two northern hemisphere species remains precarious. Recently, limited gains made by the NARW have been reversed and urgent changes to management approaches are needed if extinction is to be averted. By contrast, some SRW populations are recovering. Given their close phylogenetic relationship, morphological, demographic, and ecological similarities, the contrasting recovery rates between populations and species provide an opportunity to apply a comparative approach to inform the differences in recovery as follows. (1) Recovery: All right whale species were internationally protected in 1931, but NARW, eastern NPRW and some SRW populations have barely recovered from whaling, while others are doing so at maximal rates. Are these differences a legacy of extreme depletion (e.g., loss of genetic diversity and cultural knowledge) or primarily due to anthropogenic factors (e.g., high mortality from ship strike and fisheries entanglement)? If modern anthropogenic threats are not affecting remote SRW populations, can these serve as baseline populations for comparison with NARW and NPRW? (2) Linking individuals to population-level responses: In wild mammals, strong links exist between reproductive indices and environmental conditions within the context of life-history strategies. Individual identification of whales provides the ability to track survival, reproduction and other demographic parameters, and their population-level consequences, providing the tools with which to uncover these links. Robust life-history analyses are now available for NARW and several SRW populations, linking demography with environmental conditions, providing the potential for teasing out important influencing factors. (3) Adapting to shifting resources: Recent reproductive declines in NARW appear linked to changing food resources. While we know some large-scale movement patterns for NARW and a few SRW populations, we know little of mesoscale movements. For NPRW and some SRW populations, even broad-scale movements are poorly understood. In the face of climate change, can methodological advances help identify Eubalaena distributional and migratory responses? (4) Emergent diseases and the vulnerability of populations under stress: Marine mammals are vulnerable to infectious diseases, particularly when subjected to stressors such as fishing gear entanglements, acoustic disturbance, and prey shortages. New tools to assess large whale health include body condition imaging, viromes, microbiomes, as well as metabolic and stress hormones. Comparative analysis of the three Eubalaena spp. could identify causes of varying recovery. (5) Comparative synthesis and cumulative effects: The lack of a good analytical approach for cumulative effects is an urgent bio-statistical problem in conservation biology. Without such a framework every stressor is managed in isolation, limiting efficacy. We propose a comparative synthesis to inform future cumulative effect analyses and outline future research priorities to achieve these goals.
... Aerial and vessel surveys for right whales (LeDuc et al. 2001) have occurred in a portion of the southeastern Bering Sea (Fig. 1) where right whales have been observed or acoustically detected in most summers since 1996 (Goddard and Rugh 1998, Munger et al. 2008, Wright 2017. North Pacific right whales have been observed consistently in this area, although it is clear from historical and Japanese sighting survey data (Fig. 2) that right whales often range outside this area and occur elsewhere in the Bering Sea (Scarff 1986LeDuc et al. 2001;Clapham et al. 2004). Because of the paucity of right whales in the eastern North Pacific, sightings today are relatively rare and are often of single individuals (Fig. 2). ...
... However, in the eastern North Pacific no such calving grounds have been identified (Scarff 1986). Migratory patterns of North Pacific right whales are unknown, although it is thought they migrate from high-latitude feeding grounds in summer to more temperate waters during the winter, possibly including offshore waters (Braham and Rice 1984, Scarff 1986, Clapham et al. 2004. A right whale sighted off Maui in April 1996 (Salden and Michelsen 1999) was identified 119 days later and 4,111 km north in the Bering Sea ; to date this is the only low-to high-latitude match of an individually identified right whale in the eastern North Pacific. ...
... They were selected for being known to be correlated with the presence of right whales and/or copepods in summer (see Appendix S2). SST, MLD and NPP were averaged over the summer months (June to September) to capture the environmental conditions encountered during the main feeding period of NPRWs (Clapham et al., 2004a). A long-term climatology was obtained by averaging SST and MLD over almost the entire 20 th century and for NPP, which relies on more recent satellite data, over the period 1998-2007. ...
... Hawaii) ( Figure IV-1.A). As shown by previous authors (Maury, 1852;Clapham et al., 2004a;Gregr, 2011;Smith et al., 2012) whaling records indicate that NPRW were historically concentrated in the summer in five main areas: the Gulf of Alaska, the southeastern Bering sea, east of Kamchatka and the Kuriles, the Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan ( Figure IV-1.B). ...
Thesis
Relevant baselines on the historical distribution and abundance of species are needed to support appropriate conservation targets for depleted species, but the full scale of cumulative human impacts on ecosystems is highly underestimated. In this project, I investigated the challenges and opportunities of combining historical data with analytical methods to improve these historical baselines. Occurrence data from archaeological, historical and industrial sources were reviewed for seven cetacean and three pinniped species, revealing range contractions and population depletions from prehistorical times to today. For five whale species, I used species distribution modelling to combine 19th Century whaling records with environmental data, to estimate pre-whaling distributions. For the highly depleted North Atlantic right whale, (Eubalaena glacialis), I obtained a detailed estimate of pre-whaling distribution and abundance by inferring from the historical distribution and abundance of its congeneric North Pacific right whale (E. japonica). These results suggest that the North Atlantic right whale occupies a small fraction of its historical range and that its current population represents <5% of its historical abundance, with implications for the management, monitoring and conservation targets of this species. More generally, these results emphasize the utility of considering historical data to understand the extent to which species have been impacted by humans, assess their current level of depletion, and inform the options available for their future recovery.
... No subspecies of North Pacific right whales are distinguished (Committee of Taxonomy 2017). The species is restricted to the North Pacific Ocean between 20°N and 60°N latitude, with most historical records distributed either north of 45°N and east of 175°W or north of 35°N and west of 170°E (Scarff 1986, Clapham et al. 2004, Josephson et al. 2008a, Gregr 2011. At present, most remaining occurrences are from the Sea of Okhotsk, east of the Kuril Islands and Kamchatka, and the southeastern Bering Sea (Sekiguchi et al. 2014, Ovsyanikova et al. 2015. ...
... North Pacific right whales generally migrated between northern summering grounds and southern wintering grounds (Scarff 1991, Brownell et al. 2001, Clapham et al. 2004). However, animals were found across a broad latitudinal range during both seasons, suggesting a staggered migration pattern (Scarff 1991). ...
Technical Report
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Blue, fin, sei, North Pacific right, and sperm whales have been listed as state endangered species in Washington since 1981. Populations of all five species, including those in the North Pacific Ocean, greatly declined in the 1800s and 1900s from being severely overharvested by whalers. Current abundance remains strongly influenced by past levels of whaling harvest. Information on the biology, stock status, and trend of these species is summarized below. • Blue whale – This large baleen whale forages primarily on krill along continental shelf slopes and deeper oceanic waters. Animals off Washington belong to the Eastern North Pacific stock, which mostly migrates between northern summer feeding locations and wintering areas off western Mexico and Central America. Current stock size is about 1,600 whales and remains below the estimated historical stock size of 2,200 individuals. Stock trend is possibly stable. Blue whales are now regularly present off the outer Washington coast. • Fin whale – Another large baleen whale, this species occurs mainly along or beyond continental shelf breaks, where it feeds on krill, forage fish, and other prey. Fin whales off Washington belong to the California/Oregon/Washington stock, which is at least partially migratory. The stock currently holds about 9,000 animals and is experiencing strong growth. Historical stock size is unknown. Fin whales are now regularly present off the outer coast of Washington. Rare sightings in the Salish Sea in 2015 and 2016 are the first in recent decades. • Sei whale – This medium-sized baleen whale forages on copepods and other prey mainly in deep oceanic waters. Most individuals are migratory between higher latitudes in the summer and lower latitudes in the winter. Animals off Washington belong to the Eastern North Pacific stock, which currently numbers about 500 whales. Trend and historical stock size are unknown. Although there have been no recent confirmed detections of sei whales in Washington, the species likely remains a rare visitor to the state’s outermost waters. • North Pacific right whale – A large baleen whale, this species feeds primarily on copepods in shelf, shelf edge, and deeper oceanic waters, and is migratory between northern summering areas and southern wintering areas. Animals along the western North American coast belong to the Eastern North Pacific stock. Once abundant, this stock now contains about 30 whales and is near extirpation, with no sign of recovery. Stock members are very rare visitors south of Alaska, with just a handful of records off the outer coast of Washington since the early 1900s. • Sperm whale – The largest of the toothed whales, sperm whales are deep diving predators of mainly squid. Deep oceanic waters are inhabited, although males sometimes venture onto continental shelves. Animals off Washington belong to the California/Oregon/Washington stock, which currently numbers about 2,100 whales. Although historical stock size is unknown, it was probably larger than current size. Stock trend is possibly stable. Sperm whales are regularly present off the outer Washington coast. The stocks of all five species face potentially significant and increasing threats from one or more factors, with those of greatest concern being ship strikes, entanglement in fishing gear and marine debris, human-generated marine sound, climate change, and in the case of North Pacific right whales, issues related to small population size. With these considerations in mind and because all five species are federally listed as endangered, it is recommended that blue, fin, sei, North Pacific right, and sperm whales remain listed as state endangered species in Washington.
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