Une baleine noire du Pacifique Nord, l'un des animaux les plus menacés d'extinction, a été observée ces derniers jours pour la première fois en plus de 60 ans au large des côtes occidentales du Canada, a annoncé jeudi le ministère des Pêches et des Océans.

Ce mammifère a été vu à plusieurs reprises par un navire des garde-côtes canadiens qui croisait à l'ouest des îles de la Reine-Charlotte, un archipel situé à l'extrême nord de la province canadienne de Colombie-Britannique, à la frontière avec l'Etat américain de l'Alaska.

"Quand nous avons réalisé ce que nous voyions, nous avions peine à y croire", a déclaré dans un communiqué James Pilkington, un biologiste du ministère qui se trouvait à bord du navire lorsque la baleine a été aperçue pour la première fois, le 9 juin.

"Jamais je n'aurais pensé voir une baleine noire du Pacifique Nord de toute ma vie, et surtout avoir l'occasion de l'observer pendant plusieurs jours. C'était l'extase!", a lancé le scientifique.

Une telle baleine (également appelée baleine franche du Pacifique Nord) n'a été aperçue dans les eaux canadiennes qu'à six reprises au cours du XXe siècle, la dernière fois remontant à plus de 60 ans, a souligné le ministère des Pêches et des Océans.

Espèce classée parmi celles les plus menacées d'extinction, cette baleine se distingue par sa peau noire, sa mâchoire très courbée et ses excroissances blanches sur la tête. Elle peut mesurer jusqu'à 17 mètres et peser 90 tonnes.

Chassée de manière intensive tout au long du XIXe siècle et pendant la première moitié du XXe siècle, jusqu'à ce que ce soit déclaré illégal dans les années 1960, il n'en resterait qu'entre 300 et 400 individus au large de la Colombie-Britannique, de l'Alaska et dans la mer de Béring.

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