found in the Pacific
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
"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
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.
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.
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.
know where they go in the winter," she said.
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."