The western North Pacific (WNP) population of gray whales Eschrichtius robustus is redlisted by the IUCN as Critically Endangered. As part of a long-term study on whales off Sakhalin Island, Russia, photo-catalog comparisons of gray whales in the western and eastern North Pacific (ENP) were undertaken to assess population mixing. These comparisons involved 2 approaches: (1) a systematic comparison of the WNP ‘Sakhalin Catalog’ to an ENP ‘Pacific Northwest Catalog’ that consisted of images from the northwest coast of North America and (2) a non-systematic comparison of the WNP ‘Sakhalin Catalog’ to an ENP ‘Laguna San Ignacio Catalog’ that consisted of images from central Baja California, Mexico. The Sakhalin to Pacific Northwest comparison consisted of 181 and 1064 whales, respectively, and resulted in 6 matches (3 males, 2 females, and 1 whale of unknown sex). All sightings of ‘Sakhalin whales’ in the Pacific Northwest occurred off southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. The Sakhalin to Laguna San Ignacio comparison consisted of 181 and 2514 whales, respectively, and resulted in 4 matches (2 males and 2 females). As the Pacific Northwest and Laguna San Ignacio catalogs represent only a small fraction of the total estimated number of individuals in the ENP population (~19000), it is likely that more WNP/ENP exchange has occurred than was detected by these photo-catalog comparisons. Although these matches provide new records of movements between the WNP and ENP, recent observations of gray whales off Japan and China suggest that not all gray whales identified in the WNP share a common wintering ground.
Weller, D.W., A. Klimek, A.L. Bradford, J. Calambokidis, A.R. Lang, B. Gisborne, A.M. Burdin, W. Szaniszlo, J. Urbán, A. Gomez-Gallardo Unzueta, S. Swartz, and R.L. Brownell Jr. 2012. Movements of Gray Whales Between the Western and Eastern North Pacific. Endangered Species Research 18: 193-199. doi: 10.3354/esr00447Download PDF
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