About The North Pacific Right Whale


      The North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica) is an enormous, robust, baleen whale species that is now extremely rare and endangered.  Recently, it has been demonstrated that there are right whales in the three major ocean basins where they are found: North Pacific, North Atlantic and Southern Ocean. At one time, they were considered one whale, but now 3 distinct species are recognized: The North Pacific Right Whale (E. japonica), the North Atlantic Right Whale (E. glacialis) and the Southern Right Whale (E. australis).    

     Although gentle and playful, right whales have had the misfortune of being defined and even named according to their value as hunted rather than living creatures.  Whalers named the species, thinking that these were the “right whales” to kill because they are slow swimmers, swim within sight of shore and their carcasses float.  Right whales were hunted for oil, meat, apparel materials, umbrella ribs, and buggy whips until the early 20th century.  After commercial whaling ceased on these whales in the 1930s, the right whales have not made any significant recovery.  Once abundant, the North Pacific right whale is now the most endangered whale in the world.

     The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) has been leading an international fight to protect critical habitat for the North Pacific right whale since 2000.  In that year, the CBD formally requested that the National Marine Fisheries Service protect the whale’s critical habitat as required by the Endangered Species Act.  After putting up with years of agency inaction and delay, the CBD was forced to sue the Service to insure habitat protection. Eventually, the Service designated critical habitat for the North Pacific right whale in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska.

     Though the North Pacific right whale has been considered officially endangered for almost 40 years, it long shared its Endangered Species Act listing with the North Atlantic right whale, thus not receiving the individual recognition and protection it deserved.  But in 2008, in response to the CBD’s 2005 petition and 2006 lawsuit, the Service listed the whale as endangered as a distinct species. This significantly increased the whale’s legal protection and triggered requirements to prepare a recovery plan and take other measures for the species’ conservation.  In 2010, another CBD lawsuit contributed to the cancellation of an oil and gas lease sale in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, within the North Pacific right whale’s critical habitat.

The North Pacific right whales are so rare that there are no pictures we could find of one breaching. These photos are an example of its cousin, the South Pacific right whale.