The eastern population of the North Pacific right whale (NPRW, Eubalaena japonica) is the most endangered stock of whales in the world, with an estimated population of only 30 individuals (Wade et al. 2011b). The extreme rarity of these whales is likely the result of extensive historical whaling in the 19th century (Scarff 2001), followed by large illegal catches by the USSR in the 1960s (Doroshenko 2000, Brownell et al. 2001, Clapham et al. 2004). Little is known about the distribution, movements, or habitat use of this population, but the scant existing data suggest that it now occupies a greatly reduced range compared to historical times, when right whales were widely distributed across the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) and Bering Sea (BS) (Shelden et al. 2005, Shelden and Clapham 2006). The vast majority of eastern NPRW records (and search effort) since 1979 have occurred in the southeastern BS (Shelden et al. 2005); there have been only four sightings of NPRWs in the GOA since 2004 (Wade et al. 2011a) and no photo-identification or genotype matches between BS and GOA whales have been made (Wade et al. 2011a).
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