8 min read

Blue Whales Are Slowly Making A Comeback

Despite the horrific exploitation of blue whales since the 1930s when they were hunted for their meat and blubber by Russian fleets, recent research has shown that numbers are on the rise again, reaching around a mere 97 percent population growth from their previous numbers (500). In September, Marine Mammal Science published that there are now around 2,200 blue whales swimming in the Pacific - delightful news! This said, there is still cause of concern towards the probability of ship strikes that would directly impact upon cherished numbers and therefore populations may remain unstable still.

Blue whales are the largest mammals on the planet, therefore it would be appalling if they were wiped out because of man's activities. They have been found to be up to 33 meters in length and weigh up to 190 tonnes!

In terms of the populations in the Antarctic, numbers still look bleak. However the Californian population has been seen feeding close to the coast, stretching from Alaska to Costa Rica.

(Photo: flickker photos)

Many conservation efforts have been implemented to make this possible. Due to the secrecy and conflict with previous hunting laws and methods, the resulting small population of blue whales was unknown. Researchers therefore had to work out the present numbers from some scientific "sleuthing" and this could only take place recently due to having access to information from various archives.

Commercial whaling nations in the 1900s concentrated their hunting efforts on the colder Antarctic waters, whereby the practice was banned in 1966, when shockingly, some 346,000 were killed by harpoons during this sport. In comparison, the numbers caught in the Pacific were much lower, approximately 3,400 between 1905 and 1971.

At this time, however, there were no obvious signs as to what type of blue whales were being hunted. Now, research has shown there are two distinct groups: the California group and others that live near Japan and Russia.

(Photo: photophilde)

To distinguish between populations, the researchers turned to song as they discovered that their repetitive calls are different in the east and west. By this method, they were able to work out the numbers lost to whaling and calculated a historic population.

Even though numbers are now looking positive, ship strikes are now an increasing threat to populations as the more whales present, the higher the probability of conflicts with ships. Most have occurred off the coast of California- where one population is thriving, and even the authorities are paying merchant shipping to slow down; demonstrating their concerns.

The current rate of catches is around 11 adult whales per year which is said to be much lower compared to previous years. However, data suggests there could be an 11-fold increase in vessels before there is a 50 percent chance that the population will drop below what is considered to be "depleted." Therefore, as far as the Californian blue whales are concerned, they stand a strong chance of surviving.

(Photo: Oregon State University)

The future of the Californian population would not look so rosy if it wasn't for the dedicated conservation efforts that included stopping catches and start monitoring, of which without, the species would be near extinct. Experts say that even if they were hunted extensively for 50 to 70 years and recover, there is no doubt they would be a sustainable, healthy population. On the other hand, populations in the Antarctic are at approximately one percent of their historic numbers therefore their future looks bleak unless drastic interference is made.

A total ban of whaling is what seems to be the most appropriate move forward to maintain the whales' current protected status so they thrive amongst all locations in the world. This includes not just Blue Whales but many other endangered whale species. However, this implication may prove unpopular with countries like Japan that continue their whaling practices inspite of international commitments and court orders.

What's to come of these populations? Will a global ban of whaling be agreed on? Will the Antarctic population be able to recover? Look out for updates of this story here and hope for a promising future for this captivating species.

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