Trouble to the left of me, trouble to the right...

John Platt, over at the Extinction Blog has an interesting item up about what the Korea Times calls "ghost whales" -- the elusive, mysterious, and highly endangered western pacific gray whale.  A close cousin of the more populous eastern pacific grays, who Image removed.

migrate from Alaska, down the coast of California, to their nursing grounds in Baja, California, the western pacific grays follow a similar path along the east coast of Asia.  But with only about 120 individuals left, the western gray whale is one of the most endangered marine mammals on the planet.  And, unlike the eastern whales, the winter calving grounds of the western grays are unknown (how the nurseries of 45-foot, 40 ton, whales can escape detection is a remarkable thing). 

That's where Korea comes in, which has offered a bounty for photographs of the gray whales, as well as the carcases of any whales caught accidentally by Korean fishermen.  Entanglement in fishing gear is one of the main threats to the species in its southern migratory corridor.  John is right to doubt the wisdom of paying cash for a dead whale, as it creates a perverse incentive, but of even greater concern is oil development in the whales' northern feeding ground.

Russia, along with several western oil companies, is currently developing oil fields off the coast of the Sakhalin Islands.  Several conservation groups, including Pacific Environment, are opposing the project, which poses an enormous risk to the Island's marine environment and to the whales, who could be affected by oil spills, noise pollution, and ship collisions.  All of these threats are magnified by a poor record of environmental compliance on the part of the companies developing the project.  Let's hope that Korea's efforts are successful and we finally discover where the western gray's go to raise their young.  It looks like they are going to need all the protection they can get.