A North Pacific right whale was seen off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, last week, marking the first time humans have seen one of the species in over 60 years, and the seventh time in a century, according to British Columbia’s The Province.
Right whales were plentiful in the mid-19th century and highly prized for their blubber and for the baleen plates on the roofs of their mouths. But the whales were hunted nearly to extinction for these commodities. According to Ford, 30,000 of the whales were killed in a single decade at the time.
Hunting of right whales has been banned since 1935, but they still are at risk for colliding with ships or being caught in fishing lines.
Ford has spent his career hoping to see a right whale. He and his colleagues used the rare opportunity to observe the one they found for as long as they could. “It’s an opportunity we may never have again,” Ford said.
Biologists Graeme Ellis, John Ford and James Pilkington spotted the rare creature on June 9 near Haida Gwaii, and observed it for a full day. “It was a thrilling experience,” said Ford. “We would never have imagined that we would be able to see one. They are critically endangered and extremely rare.”
The last time anyone saw a right whale was in 1951, also off the British Columbia coast. Ford estimates that there are no more than 50 of these whales in the area, and only a few hundred left worldwide.
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