The California blue whale, the largest creature that has ever existed in the history of our planet, has finally recovered from centuries of whaling.
According to recent figures, the majestic creatures’ numbers are returning to historic levels, with an estimated 2,200 individuals currently living on the eastern side of the Pacific Ocean.
The figures, reported in the journal Marine Mammal Science, suggest that California blue whales are now at 97% of their original levels.
It is incredible that the species even survived in the area, considering that between 1905 and 1971, an estimated 3,400 whales were killed in the Pacific. Sadly, in Antarctica, where whaling was far more severe, blue whales only number at about 1% of their original population.
For thousands of years, whales of all kinds have been hunted and killed by Humans, usually for food. However, in the 17th century and into the 19th century, whale oil became a greatly valued commodity and let to an enormous amount of overhunting.
Despite bans on commercial whaling taking effect throughout the latter half of the 20th century, the countries of Japan, Norway and Iceland still slaughter 2000 whales a year between them. Since the first ban on commercial whaling was introduced in 1986, countries exploiting loopholes in the ban have killed over 30,000 whales. These include endangered species such as humpbacks and fin whales.
An adult blue whale can grow up to 33 metres in length and weigh up to 190 tonnes, but, despite their great size and strength, they are largely docile creatures that feed on plankton.
It is encouraging to know that whales, the majority of which are slow to mature and reproduce, can, if left alone, bounce back from Human predation. Clearly, it is not too late to save other whale species from extinction.
The news of the blue whale’s incredible resurgence comes in the same month as several countries agreed to ban the trade of certain shark and manta ray species that are threatened by overfishing.
Many of these species are used for traditional medicine or shark fin soup. Sharks, of course, pre-date dinosaurs and play such a large role in the ecosystems of our oceans that the natural world would be in a great deal of trouble without them.
The recent ban represents a landmark in shark protection, despite the shortsighted refusal of several nations (Canada, Greenland, Guyana, Japan and Iceland) to adhere to its rules. The new laws now protect five of the shark species that are most at risk from overfishing, along with manta rays. These laws will be supported across 180 countries, which is a monumental result.
As encouraging as these results are, it is still worth remembering that today there are only 3% of the whales that existed 200 years ago, when commercial whaling began in earnest.
To donate to the charity WDC (Whale Dolphin Conservation) go to this website