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Right whales found in the Pacific

Associated Press

   WASHINGTON - North Pacific right whales, the most endangered of -the whale family, have been found feeding in a new area of the Bering Sea, giving scientists hope of finding ,'-ways to help the whales survive.
   "This is a very exciting discovery. These animals are on -the brink of extinction," said Cynthia -Tynan, an ocean biologist with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
    In a study that appeared Friday in the journal Science, Ms. Tynan and other researchers reported at least five North Pacific right whales are now regularly feeding in relatively shallow waters of the southeastern Bering Sea, far from their traditional feeding grounds.
   The animals are also feeding on a species of crustacean that was previously not their prey, an additional encouraging sign, Ms. Tynan said.
   The whales feed by straining small animals, called zooplankton, out of ,the', sea-,, Ms. Tynan said the new group is feeding on a crustacean that is less than one-quarter of a centimetre long and must be consumed in huge concentrations to nourish the whales.
   Ms. Tynan, a researcher at NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, said their population was decimated before commercial whaling was stopped in the 1960s. Some estimates suggest there are only 100 to 200 of the animals left. They have not been seen in their traditional feeding grounds for years and Tynan said it has been more than a decade since a documented sighting of a North Pacific right whale calf.
   "This new site is the only place where we know we can go and find the North Pacific right whale," Ms. Tynan said.
   She said the animals spend only their summers in the 45- to 75-metre-deep shelf of the Bering Sea. The water surface freezes in the winter, forcing the whales to leave.
    "We don't know where they go in the winter," she said.
   Ms. Tynan said it is not known if the remaining North Pacific right whales are able to reproduce enough to keep the species alive.
   "We would like there to be both healthy males and females."

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