In late August 2021, marine biologists off the west coast of Kodiak Island saw a pair of remarkable whale spouts in the choppy blue waters of the Gulf of Alaska. The distinctive V-shaped spouts proved to be a pair of right whales, one of the rarest and most endangered whales in the world. A few days later, they spotted a different pair of right whales. There are only about 30 right whales in Alaska waters – a population known as the eastern North Pacific stock. The Western North Pacific stock is found off the coast of Russia and numbers two or three hundred whales.
Right whales are so named because they were the “right” whale to hunt. They're slow-moving and they float after being killed. At least 26,000 were killed in the north Pacific in the time of commercial whaling.
These marine biologists were surveying large whale species in the Kodiak area because right whales have been seen here before. The area is important habitat for this relic population of North Pacific right whales, and part of the region is designated as critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act.
Right whales can be identified as individuals based on distinctive marks and scars. Two of the four whales spotted are known - one was seen nearby in 2006 and the was seen earlier in 2021 off the coast of British Columbia. The other two are completely new individuals never before identified by researchers. For SW..