Harpooned almost into extinction in the mid-1800s, critically endangered and extremely rare, the North Pacific right whale is one whale that most researchers accept they might never see. There are only between 38 and 50 North Pacific right whales left in the eastern part of the Pacific Ocean and no more than a few hundred in the world. Seeing one has been described as “winning the marine mammal lottery”, which is exactly what researcher John Ford and colleagues have just done last week off the coast of British Colombia, Canada, when they came across a lone individual North Pacific right whale whilst on survey.
Hunting of the North Pacific right whale has been banned since 1935 but illegal hunting continued into the 1960s. Although no longer an issue facing these majestic animals, they are at risk from collisions with ships and incidental entanglement in fishing gear.
“It was a thrilling experience … We would never have imagined that we would be able to see one and it was not only exciting personally … but it was wonderful for us to be able to confirm that this species still exists,” said Ford.
The last time one of the majestic mammals was seen off the coast of B.C. was in 1951 (62 years ago).