Whales are magnificent ocean creatures that amaze all who are fortunate enough to have seen them up close in their natural habitat. Seven of the thirteen species of whale are now classed as endangered. How can this spectacular ocean mammal have come to this? Let's take a look and see.
Whaling can be traced back to prehistoric times when it had little effect on whale numbers and their habitat. Whaling became a huge industry by the nineteenth century due to the demand for whale oil, margarine and meat. The main species hunted are the Common and Antarctic Minke Whale.
Which Species are Endangered?
- The Gray Whale depleted by commercial whaling is critically endangered with the Western Pacific Gray Whale numbering less than one hundred.
- Bowhead Whales hunted for over 400 years threatened by offshore drilling and sea ice melting.
- Humpback Whale stocks have recovered of late but with pressure coming from countries like Japan to be able to hunt the Humpback this species is still threatened.
- Beluga Whales in the Alaska region. Many are so contaminated when dead they are classed as toxic waste!
- Narwhals are at risk from indigenous hunting as they are hunted for their tusks that bring a huge price to the seller. Sea melting is also affecting the Arctic which is their natural habitat.
- Sei Whale numbers are down by 20% and are listed as endangered in the waters of the US, while Japanese whalers also hunt this species.
- Right Whales are almost extinct with the North Atlantic Right numbering only around three hundred.
Even though there is a general consensus regarding commercial whaling, with countries agreeing the ban of international trading of whale products, not all countries adhere to this agreement. Iceland is one such country as they continue to hunt whales commercially with over one thousand whales killed each year. Products produced from commercial whaling include meat and oil.
Countries who are members of the International Whaling Commission have endlessly put pressure on Iceland to cease commercial whaling to no avail. This includes the hunting of the endangered Fin Whale. Despite recent attempts to bring Iceland into the fold the country persists in its commercial whaling programme.
Pro whaling countries are trying to get the ban lifted so they can commence commercial whaling once more. These countries include Iceland, Japan and Norway. With many countries considering whaling an immoral pursuit that is unsustainable the debate rages on.
Global Warming and Pollution
Climate change is certainly affecting the oceans around the world which in turn affects all the creatures of the seas including the whale population. Rising ocean temperatures means less food in the form of krill for whales who feed on it. Krill is a small crustacean whose population is being affected by rising sea temperatures. It's obvious really, less food for the whale means less whales.
Ocean currents are also affected by global warming meaning that food distribution is altered in the sea with feeding grounds plus migratory pathways changing for the whale. All these issues put together are endangering the future of this wonderful ocean giant therefore something needs to be done.
We all contribute to global warming with too many gases released by us into the atmosphere which results in climate change. Cars, airplanes, coal fired power stations, are just some of the things we humans use that are causing global warming. The rise in temperature is melting the ice caps and changing weather patterns which affect us all including our fellow earth dwellers, wildlife and sea creatures.
Pollution plays its part too as items such as disposable nappies and plastic bags find their way into the ocean with whales unfortunately mistaking them for jelly fish and eating them. In the worst case scenario whales can be poisoned by eating these items.
Old discarded fishing nets that are left in the sea also are a great hazard for the whale as they can become entangled in them and ultimately drown. Chemicals and pesticides also flow into the sea from rivers. These pollutants are used on crops by farmers who do not farm organically and pose a real threat to the whale.
How Can We Help Protect the Whale?
Support a charity linked directly to Whale conservation and protection such as Sea Shepherd who monitor the waters where whaling is rife such as in Japan. Your money will go towards preventing more whales being illegally hunted by countries with old backwards hunting traditions.
Japan is a country that still hunts whales. Japan states that it is killing whales for scientific research to establish if numbers are dwindling plus how many whales are left. This statement seems a contradiction in itself, while many countries argue that Japan is able to establish whale numbers without killing them. The meat extracted from these whales is sold to restaurants and cafes throughout Japan bringing a healthy profit to the seller.
Sea Shepherd - The Whales Last Crusader
Thanks to efforts from Sea Shepherd Japan's ability to hunt whales has been dramatically reduced to near zero at times. Supporting Sea Shepherd will help prevent Whale hunting from occuring all around the world with Sea Shepherd being the only charity to take direct actions agaisnt whalers.
Watch Sea Shepherd in Action
Norway whalers hunt the Minke Whale for pure profit as they sell the meat onto Japan making a whole lot of cash. Norway states that whales are eating too many fish, while other countries opposed to Norway argue that this simply is not true. It is in fact humans that are depleting the fish population due to over intensive fishing practices.