Research Questions

Given thaat right whales were the main whale species hunted for over 1,000 years, and that the North Pacific population were both large as recently as 1840 and the last population subjected to intense whaling, the gaps in our knowledge of this species are remarkable. It is my hope that this page will stimulate some discussion on these subjects. Please e-mail me with any feedback, and I will add it in to the page as appropriate.

What is the population size of the eastern (Bering Sea/Gulf of Alaska) population?

In 2010, Wade et al publiished the results of a mark-recapture study of right whales in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. They were able to photograph 18 unique individuals and developed  photograph-based estimate of a population of 31 animals. They were able to collect genetic information from 15 males and 6 females, and used that information to derive a population estimate of  28 whales, 8 females and 20 males. The area sampled in this study did not include the Gulf of Alaska which in the mid-19th century had been the main area of pelagic whaling for this species. The authors commented: "Although these estimates may relate to a Bering Sea subpopulation, other data suggest that the total eastern North Pacific population is unlikely to be much larger."


Can we quantify the risk(s) of extinction of this population?

NMFS 2006 paper

What is the size of the western (Sea of Okhotsk/Kamchatka) population(s)?

Where do the eastern North Pacific Right Whales go in winter?

RWs in the Sea of Okhotsk, Russia & oil and gas development off Sakhalin Island In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Japanese research vessels in the Sea of Okhotz reported 28 sightings of right whaes in the Sea of Okhotsk. From this sample, the Japanese scientists estimated a population of 900 right whales in the Sea of Okhotsk, albeit with low confidence intervals (90% CI = 400-2,100). Since these sightings were made in what Russia perceives as its territorial waters, it has been difficult to get back there. After a gap of 14 years, Japanese researchers were able to resurvey this area in 2005 and apparently saw similar numbers of right whales in the same area.

Where are the calving grounds?

This is a huge gap in our knowledge for both the eastern and western populations of this species.

Is the North Pacific Right Whale anonalous in not using calving grounds very close to the coast? In the southern hemisphere, right whale mothers and young calves are routinely seen in relatively large numbers very close to the coast in Argentina, South Africa, Brazil, and Australia. In the North Atlantic, right whale mothers and calves are seen close to the coasts of Florida and Georgia, and historically were seen along the coasts in the Bay of  Biscay and North Africa.

However, in the eastern North Pacific, there is almost no evidence that right whales ever gave birth to their calves so close to shore. There is only one record of a calf????. In the western North Atlantic, there is a recent record of a right whale giving birth 63 km offshore. (Foley et al. 2011. DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2010.00452.x)  This still doesn't tell us where to look for calving grounds, but it is some evidence that the whales are capable of giving birth in offshore waters.

Do we have satellite tags up to the task??

model & attachment

tags where the whales are?

Are passive acoustic monitoring devices a viable option for the Sea of Okhotsk population?

Is it politically feasible to install passive acoustic monitoring devices in the Sea of Okhotsk or along the Kamchatka Peninsula? Would this have to be a Russian project with perhaps financing and technical support from non-western countries?

Why has the recovery of (E. japonica and E. glacialis) been so much harder than for southern right whales?

Where do the western North Pacific Right Whales go in winter?

Climate Change (aka Global Warming)


How will changing climate effect food abundance, quaality, density and distribution?

Sound Pollution

Hybridization with Bowheads?

Alaskan Gold Mine?