Considered the rarest whale population in the world, the North Pacific right whale is not often spotted. But for the second time since 1951, the majestic creature was seen in B.C. waters in late June 2013 near Prince Rupert, BC

On Oct. 26, John Ford of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Cetacean Research Program spotted the whale with colleagues Brian Gisborne, Graeme Ellis, and Robin Abernethy. The sighting came a day after Gisborne spotted the whale mixed in with a group of humpbacks. The right whale was seen off the entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait near Victoria which is approximately 50-60 miles from Victoria, BC.

“It is a different individual than the one we found last June off Haida Gwaii,” Ford said. “These are the only confirmed sightings in Canadian waters for this species since 1951, when a North Pacific right whales was killed by whalers off the west coast of Vancouver Island.”

These whales were called ‘Right Whales’ because they were easy to catch due to their avoidance of open waters and stay close to peninsulas and bays and on continental shelves, as these areas offer greater shelter and an abundance of their preferred foods. In addition to their docile nature, their slow surface-skimming feeding behaviors, their tendencies to stay close to the coast, and their high blubber content, right whales were a preferred target for whalers unfortunately.

Photo courtesy of John Ford Vancouver Aquarium
Photo courtesy of John Ford Vancouver Aquarium

The most distinguishing feature of a right whale is the rough patches of skin on its head which appear white due to parasitism by whale lice. Right whales can grow up to 18 m (59 ft) long and weigh up to 100 short tons (91 t; 89 long tons), significantly larger than humpbacks or grays, but smaller than blues.

The whale spotted last week was approximated at 16 or 17 metres long, according to The Vancouver Sun.

Ford said the current right whale population in the eastern North Pacific is estimated at less than 50.