Catch Records of the Twenty North Pacific Right Whales from Two Alaska Whaling Stations, 1917-39
The North Pacific right whale population was hunted commercially between 1835 and 1935, at which time the species received protection. Commercial whalers harvested over 15,000 North Pacific right whales during this period, so reducing the population that today there are an estimated 100-200 right whales in the North Pacific. The American Pacific Whaling Company operated in the Gulf of Alaska and eastern Bering Sea during 1917-39. We report the distribution, sexes, and lengths of 20 right whales recorded in the company logbooks and ledgers. These records identify that right whale catches were widely distributed on the whaling grounds and tended to decrease over the May-October whaling season. Of the 17 whales for which sex and length data were documented, 11 were females. Their average length exceeded that of males. Lengths of the whales indicated that 41 percent of the catch were sexually mature; two females carried fetuses. Although the sample size is small, these results suggest that the North Pacific right whale population was inhabiting its historic summering grounds after the period of heavy exploitation in the 1800s, reproducing as late as 1926, and supporting a subadult cohort at least until the species was protected.
Key words: right whale, North Pacific Ocean, Alaska, Distribution