December 4th is World Wildlife Conservation Day. The focus is to raise awareness around the negative impact of poaching and trafficking endangered species.
This year Ocean Helper are focusing on whales and the impact that whaling and human activity has had on different whale species. Following the announcement this year that Japan has returned to commercial whaling we want to raise awareness for the giants of the ocean along with how we can help protect them.
Whale Species on the Red List:
Blue Whale - Endangered
The largest creatures living on our planet at the moment are the Blue Whale who can grow up to 100 ft and weigh up to 200 tons. Currently blue whale populations are estimated to be between 10,000 - 25,000 and they are on the endangered list.
In particular, due to their large size, these incredible whales are threatened by ship strikes which more often than not result in death. This combined with the overfishing of krill and other factors, has seen a decrease in their numbers.
North Atlantic Right Whale - Endangered
These whales are slow swimmers, typically going at speeds of about 8kph or 6mph. They grow to around 12m for males and 18m for females and can live for over 30 years. The North Atlantic Right Whale is one of the most endangered species of whale in the world, despite being granted protection back in the 1930s they have shown no signs of recovering. With their current population estimated to be as low as 300 - 350 individuals.
Their population was slaughtered by the whaling industry for years. The slower pace of these whales made them the perfect target for whalers, coupled with their tendency to swim close to the coast. Since they have become a protected species they are more at risk of ship collisions and entanglement in fishing gear.
North Pacific Right Whale - Endangered
These whales live in the north pacific ocean, it is believed that they spend the summer in far northern feeding grounds and migrate south to warmer waters during the winter. It is believed that the North Pacific Right Whales can live to at least 70 years, but there is very little data on their lifespans. What is know is that they are the most endangered species of all the large whales.
Like their relatives, the North Atlantic Right Whales, the North Pacific Right Whales where hunted to devastatingly low population levels by humans. Though these days the threats they face are from pollution, both noise and chemical, along with ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear.
Sei Whale - Endangered
In stark contrast to the slow speeds of Right Whales, the Sei Whale is one of the fastest species of whale in the world reaching speeds of up to 50kph! They grow to sizes between 45ft to 66ft and usually only dives for around 5 to 10 minutes at a time.
Whale hunting played a large part in the depletion of this species, after stocks of Blue and Fin Whales declined in the 1950s and 1960s, whalers turned to hunting Sei whales. Thankfully in 1985 the International Whaling Commission halted the commercial whaling of the species, however, it was announced this year that Japan was beginning again, and they had the quota of 25 sei whales.
But whaling is not the only threat that sei whales face, along with most other whales they are threatened by entanglement in fishing gear, pollution and ship strikes, along with global warming.
Fin Whale - Vulnerable
Growing up to 80ft in length, the Fin Whale is the second largest mammal in the world. They are much slimmer and weigh less than the Blue Whale, only weighing up to almost 80 tons. They are found in all oceans around the world, but their migration pattern is still unknown. It is estimated that the Fin Whales have a lifespan of around 85 - 90 years old!
This is another whale species that has been drastically effected by whaling over the years. This combined with other threats from pollution, entanglement and ship strikes threats the species, although their numbers are thankfully on the rise.
Sperm Whale - Vulnerable
This whale species has the largest brain on the planet and they can hold their breath for up to 90 minutes. Sperm Whales can grow to between 49ft - 59ft and are the only toothed whales on our list today. They feed on about 1 ton of fish and squid a day!
Again, these whales were a targeted by whalers through the 18th and 19th century. In the late 1980s commercial whaling ended due to the drastic decline in the species population. Though they are still listed as vulnerable, the Sperm Whale is considered to be the most abundant of all the large whale species, with the global population currently estimated to be between 200,000 and 1,500,000!
Noise pollution, collisions with ships, marine debris, entanglement in fishing gear and offshore developments are all threats that the sperm whale faces.
Common Threats that Whale Species Face:
Overfishing of Krill
Entanglement in Fishing Gear
Around the world charities and scientists are researching whale migration patterns and behaviours to work towards protecting the different species. Through chartering their migrations they can help to reduce the risk of ship strikes. They are also researching the effects of ships noise pollution on whales, there are proposals in place to reduce the speed of ships to reduce the amount of noise pollution they put out.
The WDC, Whale & Dolphin Conservation, has been working to develop and implement rules to reduce ship strikes on North Atlantic Right Whale and they have been successful in reducing the risk of a fatal collision by 80-90% in US waters! They have also increased the federally designated critical habitat to cover nearly 40,000 square miles of the US East Coast in an effort to ensure the species survival.
Did you know that each year hundreds of whales become stranded on beaches around the world? The World Wildlife Fund has been working for years, offering training for locals around biology, identification, conservation, threats and rescue techniques. This training not only is vital for helping protect and rescue different species that end up stranded, but also helps raise awareness and increase people's appreciation for marine life.
A great example of conservation at work is the increasing population of Humpback Whales. On September 6th 2016, NOAA Fisheries announced that humpback whale populations had recovered enough that they were re-listed as Least Concern. After commercial whaling decimated their numbers a huge conservation effort was made to protect them and help their population increase, with incredible success!
How can you help?
Everyone can help and do their to protect whale populations. Here is are some of the simple ways you can do your part:
Don't buy whale products - By not supporting the whaling industry you will be supporting whale populations around the world!
Support campaigns to protect whales - If you see a petition to protect the whales then be sure to sign and share it.
Support sustainable & responsible fisheries - Knowing where the seafood you eat comes from is very important to ensure the health of the ocean and its eco system.
Reducing Plastic - Plastic is suffocating our oceans and is affecting all marine life. More and more in the news now we hear about dead whales washing up on the shores with stomachs full of plastic.
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