Scientists spot rare whale in Bering Sea In this Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017 photo provided by NOAA Fisheries a North Pacific right whale swims in the Bering Sea west of Bristol Bay. (NOAA Fisheries via AP)
Scientists spot rare whale in Bering Sea
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Federal researchers studying critically endangered North Pacific right whales sometimes go years without finding their subjects. Over the weekend they got lucky.

A research vessel in the Bering Sea photographed two of the animals last Sunday. It obtained a biopsy sample from one. That announcement came from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last Thursday.

NOAA Fisheries research biologist Jessica Crance was on board the Yushin Maru 2. That is the ship where the whales were spotted. The ship is part of the Pacific Ocean Whale and Ecosystem Research program. The program is a collaborative effort headed by the International Whaling Commission. 

Crance picked up faint calls of a right whale east of Bristol Bay, Alaska. She used an acoustic recorder. She listened between sounds of killer whales and walrus.

The sounds came from an estimated 10 to 32 miles (16 to 51 kilometers) away. The ship headed west, she said in a blog entry. After four and a half hours, the rare animals were spotted. This happened despite the presence of minke and humpback whales, and only a few calls from the right whales. 

The two right whales are part of the eastern stock. It numbers just 30 to 50 whales. That's according to Phillip Clapham. He is head of the cetacean program at NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle.

A French whaling ship recorded the first kill in 1835. It reported seeing "millions" of others. That claim was exaggerated. But according to Clapham, it drew hundreds of other whalers to the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea.

Within 14 years the overharvest of the slow, buoyant animals sent many whalers through the Bering Strait. They hunted bowhead whales instead.

There was a modest comeback of right whales in the 20th Century. But it was derailed when Soviet whalers in the 1960s ignored critically low numbers. They illegally killed eastern stock right whales in the Gulf of Alaska.

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

A biopsy sample can identify the animal. It can also reveal its gender and it can indicate whether it's pregnant and reveal information on diet and reproductive hormones.

Studying North Pacific right whales is complicated by the expense of reaching their habitat in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. Critical data remains unknown, including their winter habits and many of their preferred summer feeding areas for copepods, a tiny crustacean plankton.

"We don't know what habitats continue to be important to the species," Clapham said.

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

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why do scientists use an acoustic recorder?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (21)
  • brookalynd-cot
    8/16/2017 - 09:03 a.m.

    Scientists use an acoustic recorder to hear sounds. The text states that "She listened between sounds of killer whales and walrus." The sounds came from around 10 to 32 miles away.

  • williamb-cot1
    8/16/2017 - 03:02 p.m.

    It might be good to study whales.

  • oliviaab-cot
    8/28/2017 - 08:48 a.m.

    Many scientists use an acoustic recorder. The text states, "She used an acoustic recorder. She listened between sounds of killer whales and walrus." This tells me that the recorder is used to listen to animals under water.

  • Michaell-dav1
    8/28/2017 - 02:04 p.m.

    While on the Yusin Maru 2, a ship where the rare right whales were spotted, it seems like biologist Jessica Crance got lucky finding one. It is said that researchers looking for these critically endangered animals take years to find what they are looking for.

    The whales were recorded 10 - 32 miles away by the biologist. The whales were soon spotted. Apparently in 1835 a million whales were spotted, with one being killed, which lured whalers in. Right whales had a slight come back but was stopped by other whalers. That one right whale spotted hasn't been seen of over ten years.

    Researchers can find out the whale's gender and age, but can't find out about habitats' or feeding places.

  • Katea-dav
    8/28/2017 - 02:09 p.m.

    In response to "Scientists spot rare whale in Bering Sea," I agree that whales are very inportent to the eco-sestem. One reason I agree is that the whale species are very inportent to ocean life if the whales were gone than the krill and plankton would rule the sea. Another reason is that the more we learn about the spesecies the more inportent they seam to us,like keeping the krill in cheak. It says in the article "habitats continue to be important to the species". A third reason is whales are rare but importent.Even though whales are rare, I think
    i think they are importent and amazing.

  • Connora-dav
    8/28/2017 - 03:09 p.m.

    In response to "Scientists spot rare whale in Bering sea," I agree that the whale found was a very rare and endangered. One reason I agree is that they say it is over hunted and caused it's mass deaths. Another reason is that they were hunted for food when times were tough and they hunted for the whales. It says in the article," Within 14 years the over harvest of the slow, buoyant animals sent many whalers through the Bering Strait. They hunted bow head whales instead."It also says in that by the 1960s they still ignored that it was becoming extinct. A third reason is that it should of not been hunted because of how many died it says that there were "millions", but they were lying about it.It also says that when Soviet whalers in the 1960s ignored critically low numbers. Even though they should of not hunted the whales, I think
    they had to do it to survive.

  • Ariellar-dav
    8/28/2017 - 03:14 p.m.


    In response to "Scientist spot rare whale in Bering Sea".
    These whales seem very endangered. One reason I agree is that I haven't heard of them ever. Another reason is that there is only 30-50 types of these whales. It says in the article that they were very lucky to spot these whales. A third reason is it took them 4 and a half hours to find these whales i know i'm no expert on whales but that seems like an oughly long time."The biggest threats to the animals are fishing gear entanglements and ship strikes".

  • Karters-eic
    9/01/2017 - 10:50 a.m.

    My favorite animal is a whale , any type when i saw the thumbnail im like im reading it.And come to be it was AMAZING .Everybody should read it

  • Braxtonf-eic
    9/01/2017 - 11:30 a.m.

    It is crazy to find another whale and it is just found now.

  • Franklinm-eic
    9/01/2017 - 01:56 p.m.

    I love whales they are amazing so will do all I can to help

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