The Pacific blue whale, the largest animal on earth, is making a remarkable comeback after being nearly hunted to extinction by the whaling industry. Scientists and conservationists are celebrating this success story, which shows that human actions can have a positive impact on the recovery of endangered species.
Pacific blue whales grow up to 110 feet long and can weigh 200 tons. They feed almost exclusively on krill, tiny crustaceans that swarm in the ocean. They spend their winters off the coast of Mexico, but migrate north for summer feeding, and Californians are seeing them with more regularity.
“Everyone loves a good comeback, and one of the most impressive stories in Southern California is still being written – the resurgence of Pacific blue whales,” said Travis Schlepp, a reporter for KTLA, a local news station.
According to a study published in 2014 by researchers at the University of Washington, the West Coast blue whale population has bounced back at tremendous levels, recouping 97% of its pre-whaling population since whaling was banned in the 1970s. Scientists say this is the only population of blue whales to have rebounded from the ravages of whaling.
“Researchers believe that California blue whales have recovered in numbers and the population has returned to sustainable levels. Scientists say this is the only population of blue whales to have rebounded from the ravages of whaling,” reported BBC News in 2014.
However, Pacific blue whales still face threats from fishing gear entanglements, ship strikes and ocean noise, which can cause injuries or deaths. These human-caused hazards can affect their behavior, communication, reproduction and survival.
“There were restrictions put into fishing gear that negatively interacts with whales, so there can be entanglements with these large mammals and static fishing gear – gear that’s fixed to the bottom. So that’s one way that we reduce the number of uptakes or mortalities that happened,” said Jennie Dean, Vice President of Education and Conservation at the Aquarium of the Pacific.
Another way conservationists have successfully reduced whale deaths is by reducing interactions between whales and large ships, which strike the whales and can lead to instant death or serious internal injuries that later prove to be fatal.
“It’s estimated that ship strikes could take up to 18 whales a year in this particular population and the variability really depends on the density of ships,” Dean said. “So in other parts of the world, the number of ship strikes might vary, but we’ve done a good job here in the United States of recognizing this high source of mortality and taking management measures to adjust ship speeds and the locations where the ships are permitted to go.”
In America, large ships are restricted to designated shipping lanes. In addition, conservation groups such as NOAA Fisheries, Pacific Whale Foundation and WWF Australia are working to create marine protected areas, monitor whale movements, raise public awareness and engage with partners to protect Pacific blue whales.
“We use a variety of innovative techniques to study, protect, and rescue these endangered animals. We engage our partners as we develop regulations and management plans that foster healthy fisheries and reduce the risk of entanglements, create whale-safe shipping practices, and reduce ocean noise,” said NOAA Fisheries on its website.
Pacific blue whales are not only majestic creatures, but also important indicators of ocean health. Their comeback is a testament to the power of conservation efforts and human compassion. As Dean said, “These guys have made a miraculous comeback.”
– Blue Whale | NOAA Fisheries, NOAA Fisheries, June 18, 2023
– Conservation | Pacific Whale Foundation, Pacific Whale Foundation, June 18, 2023
– Blue whale | WWF Australia, WWF Australia, June 17, 2023
– Blue whales are thriving in California waters – the story of their amazing comeback, KTLA, June 17, 2023