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1.  The world's smallest whale population? 
Biology Letters  2010;7(1):83-85.
The North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica) was heavily exploited by both nineteenth century whaling and recent (1960s) illegal Soviet catches. Today, the species remains extremely rare especially in the eastern North Pacific. Here, we use photographic and genotype data to calculate the first mark–recapture estimates of abundance for right whales in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. The estimates were very similar: photographic = 31 (95% CL 23–54), genotyping = 28 (95% CL 24–42). We also estimated the population contains eight females (95% CL 7–18) and 20 males (95% CL 17–37). Although these estimates may relate to a Bering Sea subpopulation, other data suggest that the total eastern North Pacific population is unlikely to be much larger. Its precarious status today—the world's smallest whale population for which an abundance estimate exists—is a direct consequence of uncontrolled and illegal whaling, and highlights the past failure of international management to prevent such abuses.
doi:10.1098/rsbl.2010.0477
PMCID: PMC3030873  PMID: 20591853
North Pacific; right whale; Eubalaena japonica; abundance; mark–recapture; Bering Sea
2.  First human-caused extinction of a cetacean species? 
Biology Letters  2007;3(5):537-540.
The Yangtze River dolphin or baiji (Lipotes vexillifer), an obligate freshwater odontocete known only from the middle-lower Yangtze River system and neighbouring Qiantang River in eastern China, has long been recognized as one of the world's rarest and most threatened mammal species. The status of the baiji has not been investigated since the late 1990s, when the surviving population was estimated to be as low as 13 individuals. An intensive six-week multi-vessel visual and acoustic survey carried out in November–December 2006, covering the entire historical range of the baiji in the main Yangtze channel, failed to find any evidence that the species survives. We are forced to conclude that the baiji is now likely to be extinct, probably due to unsustainable by-catch in local fisheries. This represents the first global extinction of a large vertebrate for over 50 years, only the fourth disappearance of an entire mammal family since AD 1500, and the first cetacean species to be driven to extinction by human activity. Immediate and extreme measures may be necessary to prevent the extinction of other endangered cetaceans, including the sympatric Yangtze finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides asiaeorientalis).
doi:10.1098/rsbl.2007.0292
PMCID: PMC2391192  PMID: 17686754
baiji; China; extinct; Lipotes vexillifer; river dolphin; Yangtze
3.  Acoustic detection and satellite-tracking leads to discovery of rare concentration of endangered North Pacific right whales 
Biology Letters  2006;2(3):417-419.
The North Pacific right whale, Eubalaena japonica, is one of the most endangered species of whale in the world. On 10 August 2004, two right whales were located in the Bering Sea using headings to right whale calls provided by directional sonobuoys. A satellite-monitored radio tag attached to one of these whales functioned for 40 days. Over the 40-day period, this whale moved throughout a large part of the southeast Bering Sea shelf, including areas of the outer-shelf where right whales have not been seen in decades. In September, multiple right whales were acoustically located and subsequently sighted by another survey vessel approaching a near-real-time position from the tag. An analysis of photographs confirmed at least 17 individual whales (not including the tagged whales). Genetic analysis of biopsy samples identified 17 individuals: 10 males and 7 females. The discovery of seven females was significant, as only one female had been identified in the past. Genetics also confirmed the presence of at least two calves. Although the future of this population is highly uncertain, the discovery of additional females and calves gives some hope that this most critically endangered of all whale populations may still possess the capacity to recover.
doi:10.1098/rsbl.2006.0460
PMCID: PMC1686182  PMID: 17148419
North Pacific right whale; Eubalaena japonica; genetics; sonobuoy; Bering Sea; satellite-monitored radio tag

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