Subject: Info: No. Pacific right whales and California sightings (fwd)

Michael Williamson (pita@whale.simmons.edu)
Mon, 18 Mar 1996 10:35:11 -0500 (EST)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 5 Mar 1996 13:42:24 +0000
From: Jim Scarff <jscarff@igc.apc.org>
To: Multiple recipients of list MARMAM <MARMAM@UVVM.BITNET>
Subject: Re: No. Pacific right whales and California sightings

Diane and Phil's records are pretty consistent with my understanding.
FYI, here is a list of all the sightings in California and Baja
California I am aware of this century. I am aware of  NO sightings from the
Oregon coast. There are sightings from Washington and British
Columbia which I have not included here.

______ 1916. 1 baleen plate from alleged stranding near Santa Cruz
     Island, CA (Woodhouse & Strickley, 1982)

19 April 1924 one 12m female landed near Farallon Islands, CA
    (Gilmore 1956)

31 March 1955. one 13m animal off La Jolla, CA (Gilmore 1956)

13 May 1959. one 13m animal 16 miles SW Pt Montara, CA (Rice & Fiscus
     1968)

11 April 1963. one <9m animal 61 mile SW Pigeon Point (Rice & Fiscus
     1968)

10 May 1963. 44 km SSW Farallon Island (Rice & Fiscus 1968)

11 March 1965. one 15m animal 12km SW Punta Abreojos, Baja (Rice & Fiscus 1968)

13 September 1974. 60 km W of Fort Bragg, CA (NMFS POP)

17 April 1981 one 14m animal near Santa Barbara (Woodhouse &
    Strickley, 1982)

20 March 1982. one adult 1.5 km off Pillar Point (Half Moon Bay), CA
     (Scarff, J. 1986b. Sci. Rep. Whales Res. Inst. 37:129-153)

5 February 1988. one animal. La Jolla (W. Perrin, pers. comm)

9 May 1990 one animal 17m, 8 miles N of  Santa Catalina Island
        (Scarff, 1991)).

24 May 1992 off Cape Elizabeth, Washington (see Rowlett et al. 1994, Northwest
     Naturalist 75: 102-104)

3 May 1995  off Piedras Blancas, CA (Rowlett et al in prep, I believe).

19 February 1996. 15 km off Cabo San Lucas, one animal D. Gendron (MARMAM
     posting)

> Including Diane's most recent sighting, there have been only 12 records
> of right whales off California (including one off Baja) this century,
> all since 1955.

Actually, there have been 14 sightings and perhaps 1 stranding.

It seems to me noteworthy that most of the sightings have been of
single animals and most occurred in late winter or spring
(March-May).  It is also noteworthy that most of these sightings
occurred very close to shore, several from shore observers.

> Scarff 1991 (IWC 41: 467-489) makes a good case that the U.S. west coast
> was never a significant habitat for right whales, even before whaling
> decimated the population.

See also Scarff, 1986. Historic and present distribution of the right
whale in the Eastern North Pacific. Rep. Intl Whal. Commn 10 (43-63).

> However, all indications are that the E North Pacific population is
> exceedingly small and may be on its way out.

Given the level of whalewatching/fishing/pelagic birding effort along
the California coast, particularly during the January-March period,
the low level of sightings appears to mirror a very small, perhaps
intermittent population here.

My studies of Maury's whaling records from the 1840s revealed very
dense populations of right whales both in the Gulf of Alaska, and
more particularly along the coast of Kamchatka (RWs seen on 90+% of
search days) and along the Kurile Islands.  I recently nearly
finished a new translation of Klumov's 1962 right whale study which
records numerous sightings of RWs among the Kurile Islands.  I
recommend that field surveys for RW occur there, which may be tricky
given the sensitive Japanese/Russian relations in the area.

It is not clear to me that the E. No. Pacific stock was/is distinct
from the right whales found further west.  The question of stock
identity is is discussed in detail in Scarff (1991) and the
accompanying IWC Scientific Committee report.

What surprised me from review of the historic whaling records is the
apparent abundance of right whales in the North Pacific in the 1840s.
Right whales appear to have been more abundant than right whales
in the North Pacific.  This is also reviewed in Scarff (1991).

I hope that the No Pac. right whale is not forgotten in all the
justified concern for RWs in the North Atlantic, So. Atlantic and
the South Pacific.  (and read Robt Webb's excellent book "On the
Northwest, Commercial Whaling in the Pacific Northwest 1790-1967"
Univ. Brit. Columbia Press. 1988)
---------------------
Jim Scarff
1807 M.L. King Way #A
Berkeley, CA 94709
(415) 703-1440 (w)
e-mail: jscarff@igc.apc.org
Home Page: http://ourworld.compuserve.com:80/homepages/Jim_Scarff/