Foraging Ecology and Habitat of North Pacific Right Whales

The eastern stock of North Pacific right whales (Eubalaena japonica) numbers fewer
than 100 animals, and is arguably the most critically endangered large whale species. Whaling
records indicate that right whales were once abundant throughout the eastern North Pacific and
Bering Sea during the summer months. While the importance of other historic habitats in the
eastern North Pacific remains unresolved, modern sightings of right whales confirm that the
southeastern Bering Sea remains a critical habitat for North Pacific right whales. During the
summers of 2008 and 2009, we participated in collaborative research with the NOAA National
Marine Mammal Laboratory to study the distribution, behavior, and ecology of the North Pacific
right whale in the southeastern Bering Sea. The proposed project seeks to conduct final analysis
of these data and report our results in a peer-reviewed journal article. Our objective is to analyze
(1) oceanographic transects conducted in the vicinity of right whales, (2) zooplankton samples
collected in areas where right whales were both present and absent, and (3) oceanographic and
prey observations at drifting stations near right whales. This study will improve our
understanding of right whale ecology in the southeastern Bering Sea, and will ultimately help
conservation efforts as well as aid in understanding the impact of climate change on this
seriously endangered species.