By: Scott Wallace, Senior Research Scientist
After 62 years, there's new hope for one of the rarest animals on earth. A lone Pacific right whale has been sighted off the BC coast near Haida Gwaii. This news is about as exciting as it gets for this once abundant giant whale and for all those who care deeply about the survival of critically endangered species.
Sign up for our newsletter
I studied right whales on the Atlantic side of Canada during my graduate studies at Dalhousie University so I've always been keenly interested in right whale stories. But they were stories, not sightings. I never imagined that a right whale would be seen again in this area of the Pacific.
The entire population of North Pacific right whales was reduced dramatically by hunting, with only a "few tens of animals" (pdf) thought to be alive in the eastern North Pacific, and possibly a few hundred in the entire North Pacific. At one time, right whales were abundant throughout the North Pacific, including British Columbia. It is estimated that 26,500-37,000 animals were killed during intensive whaling in the 1800s, mostly by American whalers but also those in British Columbia. Hunting has been banned since 1935.
The fact that this lone whale was observed during one of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans research surveys highlights the importance of continued scientific monitoring of our marine ecosystems. And it speaks to the short sightedness of recent cuts to research programs. Over the last few years several marine research initiatives — from contaminant monitoring to commercial fisheries — have received deep budget cuts or have been abolished altogether.
While it's hard to say why the right whale has come back to our coast now, one thing is certain: our actions are key to the survival of endangered species. And this rare sighting brings us hope that with careful conservation measures, resilient ecosystems can, indeed, rebound.
If, like us, this hopeful news makes you feel driven to take action, become a David Suzuki Foundation Ocean Keeper.