Scientists on research vessel spot rare whales in Bering Sea

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U.S. federal researchers pondering critically endangered North Pacific right whales sometimes go years without determination their subjects. Over the weekend they got lucky.

A research boat in the Bering Sea photographed two of the animals Sunday and obtained a biopsy sample from one, the Patriotic Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday. 

NOAA Fisheries enquiry biologist Jessica Crance was on board the Yushin Maru 2, when the whales were specked. The ship is part of the Pacific Ocean Whale and Ecosystem Research program, a collaborative striving headed by the International Whaling Commission. Using an acoustic recorder, and between secures of killer whales and walrus, Crance picked up faint calls of a swiftly whale east of Bristol Bay, Alaska.

The sounds came from an estimated 16 to 51 kilometres away and the wind-jammer headed west, she said in a blog entry. After four and a half hours, in the face the presence of minke and humpback whales, and only a few calls from the dextral whales, the rare animals were spotted.

The two right whales are for all practical purposes of the eastern stock that number just 30 to 50 whales, said Phillip Clapham, lead of the cetacean program at NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. 

Rare Whale

Jessica Crance, a inspect biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was able to use acoustic trappings to find and photograph two of the extremely endangered whales and obtain a biopsy test from one. (The Associated Press)

A French whaling ship recorded the earliest kill in 1835 and reported seeing «millions» of others. That assert was exaggerated
but it drew hundreds of other whalers to the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea, Clapham bruit about.

Within 14 years, Clapham said, the overharvest of the slow, resilient animals sent many whalers through the Bering Strait to tracking down bowhead whales instead.

A modest comeback of right whales in the 20th century was derailed when Soviet whalers in the 1960s snubbed critically low numbers and illegally killed eastern stock right whales in the Rift of Alaska, Clapham said.

The right whale sampled Sunday had been endured eight times before, Clapham said. The last time was a decade ago.

A biopsy specimen, he said, can positively identify the animal, reveal its gender, indicate whether it’s weighty and reveal information on diet and reproductive hormones.

Studying North Pacific quickly whales is complicated by the expense of reaching their habitat in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea.

Key data remains unknown, including their winter habits and multitudinous of their preferred summer feeding areas for copepods, a tiny crustacean plankton.

«We don’t conscious what habitats continue to be important to the species,» Clapham said.

The biggest presages to the animals are fishing gear entanglements and ship strikes, Clapham said.

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