Warming Arctic may pose new risks to endangered right whales

Fishing boats and North Pacific right whales must share the narrow Bering Strait

As rising temperatures shrink polar icecaps, sea creatures are migrating northward, and commercial fishing boats are following them. That could lead to more ship collisions and gear entanglements for the critically endangered eastern population of North Pacific right whales (Eubalaena japonica) in the narrow Bering Strait.

“Prey are responding to the changing climate, and species at the top of the food chain are too,” said Dana Wright lead author on a recent study in Ecological Applications.

The Pacific hosts two populations of right whales. The eastern group, found in the waters off Alaska and the Canadian Pacific, is thought to number just 30 animals. Sightings are rare, but researchers believe the animals are following zooplankton northward.

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Header Image: n artist’s conception of what a North Pacific right whale looks like. With only about 30 in the eastern Pacific population, photos are hard to come by. Credit: NOAA