These days we mostly hear news about animals being endangered or species going extinct. So a conservation success story is certainly one to celebrate.
Researchers have recently noted that Pacific Blue Whales - specifically their California cousins that inhabit the California coast, have been making a comeback!
Blue Whales are the largest animals ever to have lived on the planet. They have been on the list of endangered species for a while now. Humans had hunted these giant mammals some 100+ years ago, leading the blue whale close to extinction.
It is only recently that one of their cousins are returning. It is estimated that there are now about 2,200 Californian Blue Whales today - nearly 97% of the original population, before humans started whaling.
Blue whales can grow to be 100 feet (30 meters) long and weigh more than 200 tons (over 400,000 pounds). These intelligent creatures have a life span of about 80 to 90 years. Whales eat tiny shrimp-like animals called krill. Blue Whales are Baleen whales - they have rugged plates attached to their upper jaws called baleen that they use to strain the krill from the water.
Did you know that though Blue whales look blue underwater, they do not have blue skin? Their skin actually has a grayish tone! Blue whales are also one the loudest animals on the planet. They make noises that other whales can hear, up to 100 miles away. Constantly on the move, the ocean's gentle giants migrate long distances. They spend winters in warm tropical waters to give birth and travel to the Arctic seas during summer in search of food.
Hunted and Endangered
Long ago, Blue whales used to be abundant in the oceans and numbered in hundreds of thousands. Now, there are only between 10,000 to 25,000 of them worldwide.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, people would hunt whales for their blubber (fat), baleen and other whale organs. Japan and Russia were among the most notorious whaling nations. They hunted whales to extract oil, and for food, clothing and other valuable products. Over-hunting caused the whale population to dwindle. The World Wildlife Fund was forced to step in and put these creatures on the endangered list. The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling was created to limit the killing of whales in the hope of giving them some time to recover.
Blue whales have also been threatened by habitat loss, toxic waste, and climate change. Whales are also vulnerable to shipping activity in the high seas and fishing nets. Conservation efforts of the last few decades have certainly paid off. These include efforts to stop catches and increased monitoring of whale habitats.
While the success of California's blue whales is commendable, these lessons need to be replicated to other whale populations in the Pacific, and other oceans around the world to bring other whales and marine species back. Saving the blue whales cannot be a local effort, it will require everybody around the globe to come together.
Critical Thinking: Why should we care about saving Blue Whales? How do they affect our lives?