Length

45-64 feet

Weight

Up to 100 tons

Population

The North Pacific right whale population is currently unknown. They have been listed under the Endangered Species Act since the 1970’s. It is assumed that their population is rather small, most likely in the low 100’s.

Distribution

The distribution and migration of North Pacific right whales is fairly unknown, due to their low numbers. It is believed that they feed in the summer/fall within the Alaskan waters, primarily the southeastern Bering Sea, and some in the Gulf of Alaska. Most sightings in recent decades that occurred outside of their known feeding grounds have occurred in southern California and a few off Baja, so it’s possible that these were once their breeding grounds.

Description

North Pacific right whales are among the rarest marine mammal species. These beautiful creatures were named right whales because they were considered the right whale to kill as they move slowly and they float to the surface after being killed. The North Pacific right whales were hunted nearly to extinction first in the 19th century, then again in the 1960’s. The eastern Pacific population (that is found in US waters) now has fewer than 30 individuals remaining, and is facing extinction. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that there may have been as many as 37,000 North PAcific right whales prior to commercial whaling in the 19th century. 

Next Level Sailing is working with NOAA to watch out for any sightings of a North Pacific right whale because each and every sighting is important. Many confuse them with the widely known gray whale species, as they have many similarities in appearance. However, if you do have the luxury of seeing a North Pacific right whale in person, look closely for the following characteristics. Right whales have dark, stocky, extremely broad bodies. In some cases, you will find that they have white patches on their underbellies. They have large heads that take up a quarter of their body length, with callosities (raised patches of rough skin) covering their heads, eyes, around their mouths, and behind their blowholes. They have no dorsal fin, skin that is extremely smooth all of the way down to their flukes, and wide, flat backs. Right whales fluke often, and it is one of their most distinctive features. Their flukes are straight, with a clean edge and deep V notch. Based on North Atlantic right whales, it is suspected that the North Pacific right whales can live to be at least 80 years old.

Being baleen whales, they filter their food, trapping shrimp-like krill and small fish. Uniquely, they are skimmers, meaning they feed while moving with their mouth open, primarily through large patches of zooplankton, which is their main source of food. Like North Atlantic right whales, the North Pacific right whales biggest threats are entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes. Unfortunately, because they are so remote and sighted so infrequently, we have no idea of the exact impact of the fishing/vessel traffic industry on the population. 

Lucky for us whale lovers, four have been sighted in the eastern Pacific recently. Please see below for more information on these spectacular individuals:

Phoenix

NMML 97, male

Discovered in 2017, Phoenix was the first juvenile seen since 2005. He was seen as a sign of hope that the population might recover. 

Blips

NMML 15, unknown

Named because of a miscommunication over the radio – the plane described “continuous callosity with lips” however, it was translated as “velocities with blips.” Blips was seen with Primero on the last day of an aerial survey in 2009 in rough seas. We finally sighted them when Blips breached! Seen in 2000, 2004, 2008, 2009, and 2017

Cuatro 

NMML 84, female

She was named for the four round callosities on the right side of her head that were easily seen from the air when she was first sighted. She was sighted in the same area as Spot and Smudgy. Seen in 2009 and 2017

Smudgy

NMML 87, female

Named after the dark patch of callosities on her head. She was observed playing with a log one afternoon and provided important habitat use information from tag data. Only seen in 2009, we hope to see her soon!