U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Published in MARINE MAMMAL SCIENCE, (2009) 25(4): 816–832; DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2009.00298.x


Blue whales were widely distributed in the North Pacific prior to the primary period of modern commercial whaling in the early 1900s. Despite concentrations of blue whale catches off British Columbia and in the Gulf of Alaska, there had been few documented sightings in these areas since whaling for blue whales ended in 1965. In contrast, large concentrations of blue whales have been documented off California and Baja California and in the eastern tropical Pacific since the 1970s, but it was not known if these animals were part of the same population that previously ranged into Alaskan waters. We document 15 blue whale sightings off British Columbia and in the Gulf of Alaska made since 1997, and use identification photographs to show that whales in these areas are currently part of the California feeding population. We speculate that this may represent a return to a migration pattern that has existed for earlier periods for eastern North Pacific blue whale population. One possible explanation for a shift in blue whale use is changes in prey driven by changes in oceanographic conditions, including the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), which coincides with some of the observed shifts in blue whale occurrence.