Rare, endangered whale spotted off Marin coast

A critically endangered North Pacific right whale was spotted west of Point Reyes on Friday, experts say. 

A group that supports marine wildlife, called ACCESS (Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies), shared photos of this "exciting and important observation." 

The marine researchers, who spotted the whale from their ship – the Bell M. Shimada – on Friday, are now asking people to keep an eye out for more. 

ACCESS said there were some physical giveaways of the species, including a distinctive V-shaped blow, a black body, white callosities (patches of thickened tissue) on its head and no dorsal fin.

Rather than traveling, the large mammal was described as "milling" while it was observed from a ship for 20 minutes. This was in the area of the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary

The group said photos and videos were sent to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Mammal Lab in Seattle. This will further help them understand this rare species. 

The whale was resting on top of the water. "It was not feeding or diving, just hanging out on the surface," said Jennifer Stock, an education and outreach specialist with NOAA. 

"When they're sleeping, you know, they tend to float near the surface and come up for debris every so often," said Jennafer Malek with NOAA Fisheries. 

The North Pacific right whale, known scientifically as Eubalaena japonica, is so rare that estimating its current population has been a challenge, according to ACCESS. The National Marine Fisheries Service estimates the population to be as low as 30 to 40 individuals left in the eastern North Pacific. NOAA says it is likely that fewer than 500 of this kind of whale are remaining. They say most sightings have been of single whales. 

The Marine Mammal Center weighed in to say there have only been 18 confirmed sightings off of California, including Baja, since 1955. One of the more recent sightings was in March 2023 in Monterey Bay. 

Photo courtesy ACCESS Oceans. 

ACCESS says the species was nearly wiped out by whaling in the 1800s. Prior to this, their population was estimated to be as many 37,000. The group says today, their primary threat comes from ship strikes, entanglements and algal blooms. 

"Even though harvest of right whales was outlawed in the 1930s, there ended up being illegal whaling, by the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 70s. That basically crushed what was left of the species," Malek said. 

Previous coverage: 'Critically endangered' right whale spotted near Monterey Bay

As for food, they feed from spring to fall and their primary source of food is zooplankton. These skimmers feed by moving with their mouths open through zooplankton patches, according to NOAA. 

"North Pacific right whales are baleen whales, which feed by straining huge volumes of ocean water through their comb-like baleen plates that trap copepods and other zooplankton," Stock said. 

This whale species has a lifespan of about 70 years, but NOAA says there is little data available on longevity. 

Experts say sightings may be a bit more frequent, but that doesn't necessarily mean the species is recovering to any degree. If you see one, you're asked to report the sighting to NOAA at np.rw@noaa.gov.

Andre Torrez is a digital content producer for KTVU. Email Andre at andre.torrez@fox.com or call him at 510-874-0579. 

KTVU's Crystal Bailey contributed to this report. 

Photo courtesy ACCESS Oceans. 


Santa Clara County to begin spraying for dangerous non-native mosquitos

An aggressive and non-native mosquito is spreading in the South Bay. Crews are now combatting the bug with targeted sprayings.