The most endangered whales. 🐳🐋

This post is about the most endangered whales in the world.

Why are whales endangered?

There are a number of factors contributing to the current ‘endangered’ status (IUCN) of whales such as overfishing, pollution, dam/bridge construction, private/commercial boating and commercial whaling, but out of these contributing factors commercial whaling has had the largest affect on the endangered status of today’s existing whale populations.
In fact the hunting of whales (by humans) has existed for thousands of years; as far back as prehistoric times.

Here is a whale hunting timeline:

The History of Whaling.

Whaling is the act of hunting whales for their meat, bones and blubber which are used to make various products and chemicals such as transmission fluid, candles, margarine, jewelry, toys and tools.
While most people think about whaling in recent years due to media coverage, the history of whaling dates back to at least 3,000 B.C. with some researchers obtain possible evidence of this practice extending as far back as 6,000 B.C.

Some of this evidence includes observing ancient tools that appear to be early harpoons with ropes or lines attached to them as well as the use of drogues.

One of the oldest methods known for capturing whales was to place several small boats beside a whale and hope to scare it and drive it to shore where it would land on the beach and could be killed.

While whaling has existed for thousands of years it wasn’t until around the 17th century that the whaling industry truly emerged due to an increase in the necessity of goods and advances in technology which improved the hunting and success rates of whale killings.

By the 18th and 19th century whaling became a highly competitive business.

Part of the increased necessity for whale parts was due to the boom of the industrial era as whale oil became increasingly used among both small and large businesses.

In the 20th century the concept of whale harvesting began to grow as well as the introduction of factory ships which could be used to hunt, capture and transport whales much more effectively.

As technology and the demand of whale goods increased stocks of whales began to significantly decrease causing many species to become endangered.

By the late 1930’s 50,000 + whales were being killed annually.

The large decline in whale populations led to growing concerns among groups and organizations that began to worry about various species of whale becoming endangered and possibly even facing extinction.

But despite this whaling still continues today in a more limited form.

The whaling that continues today falls under two broad categories.

First, local and international authorities permit some communities with a history of subsistence whaling to continue such traditional practices; examples of this include the Inuit in Canada and some groups in Indonesia.

Representatives of these groups claim that whaling represents an integral part of their cultures and provides an important dietary resource.

In these communities, whalers hunt for whales in the traditional fashion in smaller boats, although rifles now often replace harpoons or spears.

The second category includes those hunts permitted by the IWC under its so-called scientific exception, which allows limited whaling for research purposes.

The controversial Japanese whale hunt in Antarctic waters is an example of modern research whaling.

Critics claim that this exception is merely a cover for whaling for meat or oil and that killing whales is unnecessary for research or conservation.

In addition, the IWC rules do not regulate the hunting of small cetacean species such as dolphins and pilot whales, and hunts of this kind continue in certain regions, for instance in Denmark’s Faroe Islands.

Countries that are still allowed to Whale hunt include:

1. Japan

After an International Whaling Committee (IWC) ban in 1986 on commercial whaling, Japan launched its scientific whaling program, the one which has recently been halted by the ICJ.
As the biggest killer of whales, Japan sells whale meat in food markets after killing up to 1000 whales in the Southern Ocean while, in the North Pacific, up to 360 whales of different species are killed and sold on.

2. Norway

In 1993, Norway objected to IWC’s whaling ban and continued their whale hunt operations. The number of whales that Norway allows itself to capture has risen steadily over the last decade, from 671 minke whales in 2002 to over 1,000 in 2013. However, they usually catch only half of this total.

3. Iceland

Iceland stopped whaling in 1989, but in 2003 it resumed scientific whaling and began commercial whaling in 2006. Its quota from IWC is 216 whales a year. In 2010, Icelandic whalers killed 148 endangered fin whales, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

4. Greenland

Greenlandic Inuit whalers hunt and catch 175 whales every year, the third largest behind Japan and Norway. 160 whales are taken from the more densely populated west coast while around ten are taken from the east coast.

5. Canada

Whaling in Canada is predominantly carried out in small numbers by Inuit groups. Whale meat is sold in shops and supermarkets in northern Canada where it serves as a staple of the Inuit diet.

6. United States

Whaling in the US involves nine indigenous Alaskan communities where the hunts catch 50 whales a year with a total whale population of 10,500.

7. Russia

Russians in the country’s Far East are permitted by IWC to hunt for and catch up to 140 gray whales from the population every year.

8. South Korea

South Korea undertakes scientific whaling in its own waters by right. The country’s leaders see the hunting and eating of whale meat as deeply entrenched in South Korean history.

9. Faroe Islands

Approximately 950 whales are caught in the summer annually in a hunt known as Grindadrap. The hunt is seen as an important aspect of Faroese culture and history.

10. Saint Vincent and Grenadines

Residents of the Carribbean islands have a quota of four humpback whales a year from the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

What is the IWC?

– The International Whaling Commission.

-Set up by terms of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling ( ICRW) which was signed in Washington D.C. in the United States in 1946 to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry.

The main duty of the IWC is to keep under review and revise as necessary the measures laid down in the Schedule to the Convention which govern the conduct of whaling throughout the world. These measures, among other things, provide for the complete protection of certain species; designate specified areas as whale sanctuaries; set limits on the numbers and size of whales which may be taken; prescribe open and closed seasons and areas for whaling; and prohibit the capture of suckling calves and female whales accompanied by calves. The compilation of catch reports and other statistical and biological records is also required.

The World’s most endangered whales.

Just how endangered are some of the world’s whales?

There are, for instance, only about 80 Southern Resident killer whales left on the planet.

Others, including sperm, right, and blue whales, are still trying to recover from being hunted to near oblivion during the last two centuries. Fin and sei whales are still hunted by some nations.

Pacific Coast killer whales can’t find enough chinook salmon to eat because inland river dams as well as overfishing have nearly wiped out many fish runs, while climate change is melting the Arctic habitat of the bowhead whale.

Below are the 10 most endangered whales in the World:

Southern Resident Killer Whale (Orcinus orca).

Roughly half of all Southern Resident killer whales (Orcinus orca) were removed from the population due to shooting prior to 1960 and live capture in the 1960s and 1970s, but once these activities were banned, the population rebounded from 71 individuals in 1976 to 98 in 1995. However, the population has declined since, and as of June 2019 stands at 76, the lowest it has been in 34 years. The prospects for recovery appear bleak, as since 2015 there has been just one birth that have produced a calf who survived to juvenile age.
Scientists are uncertain about how many Southern Resident killer whales can currently be supported by the environment. Although the environment’s carrying capacity may have exceeded 200 whales before the 20th century, it may not be able to support that many Southern Resident killer whales now. Like the other fish-eating killer whale populations in the North Pacific, the Southern Residents are dietary specialists on fish, and particularly Chinook salmon. Recent scientific findings suggest that the reproductive and mortality rates of resident killer whales are related to the abundance of Chinook salmon, which has declined significantly from before the era of intense commercial fishing and widespread habitat destruction. Modeling studies suggest the modern carrying capacity is roughly 90 whales, which suggests that the decline since the mid-90s is not due primarily to prey-related, density-dependent factors.

Western North Pacific Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus)

A western North Pacific population of gray whales historically migrated along the coasts of Russia, Korea, China, and Japan and was thought to be extinct after being decimated by commercial whaling before the 1970s. A small population was discovered in the 1990s off Sakhalin Island, Russia, and current conservation efforts focus on mitigating the impacts of rapidly expanding offshore oil and gas development in that region and on reducing the risk of entanglements in fishing gear. Satellite telemetry, photo-identification, and genetic studies are providing new insights on the movements and phenology of gray whales throughout the North Pacific and raising new questions concerning the relationships of the Sakhalin whales to other gray whales in the North Pacific.
Until recently, the gray whales in the eastern and western North Pacific were thought to be entirely separate. While there is evidence that some of those that feed off Sakhalin move south to at least Japan in the winter, it is uncertain to what extent the traditional wintering areas in Asia are still used. Photographic and genetic matches, as well as satellite tracking results, have shown that substantial numbers of the Sakhalin whales migrate to the Mexican wintering grounds, but recent acoustic evidence from the U.S. Navy has been interpreted as suggesting that some gray whales move through the East China Sea, travelling south in the fall and north in the spring. The International Whaling Commission’s (IWC’s) Scientific Committee is conducting a range wide review of population structure and status of North Pacific gray whales.

Cook Inlet Beluga Whale

Beluga whales live in the cold waters of Alaska, and there are five separate populations. Of those five, the Cook Inlet population is the smallest and has declined by about seventy-five percent. The endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale is a NOAA Fisheries Species in the Spotlight.

Known as “canaries of the sea” because of the many different sounds they make, these whales are highly social. Subsistence hunting may have contributed to their initial population drop, but this practice was regulated starting in 1999, with the last hunt in 2005. Still, the Cook Inlet beluga population has yet to recover.

North Atlantic Right Whale

The North-Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered of all large whales, with a long history of human exploitation and no signs of recovery despite protection from whaling since the 1930s.

North Atlantic right whales have been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act since 1970. Today researchers estimate there are about 400 North Atlantic right whales in the population with fewer than 100 breeding females left. Only 12 births have been observed in the three calving seasons since 2017, less than one-third the previous average annual birth rate for right whales. This, together with an unprecedented 30 mortalities since 2017 (part of a declared Unusual Mortality Event, accelerates the downward trend that began around 2010, with deaths outpacing births in this population.

North Pacific Gray Whale

A western North Pacific population of gray whales historically migrated along the coasts of Russia, Korea, China, and Japan and was thought to be extinct after being decimated by commercial whaling before the 1970s. A small population was discovered in the 1990s off Sakhalin Island, Russia, and current conservation efforts focus on mitigating the impacts of rapidly expanding offshore oil and gas development in that region and on reducing the risk of entanglements in fishing gear. Satellite telemetry, photo-identification, and genetic studies are providing new insights on the movements and phenology of gray whales throughout the North Pacific and raising new questions concerning the relationships of the Sakhalin whales to other gray whales in the North Pacific.

Bowhead Whale

Bowhead whales are one of the few whale species that reside almost exclusively in Arctic and subarctic waters experiencing seasonal sea ice coverage, primarily between 60° and 75° north latitude. Of all large whales, the bowhead is the most adapted to life in icy water. Its adaptations to this environment include an insulating layer of blubber up to 1.6 feet thick.

Commercial whaling for bowheads off Alaska began in the mid-1700s, and lasted until the early-1900s. The economic value of the bowheads’ oil and baleen, combined with their slow swimming speeds and tendency to float when killed, made them a prime target for whalers. By the time commercial whaling of bowheads effectively ended in 1921, the worldwide bowhead abundance had declined to less than 3,000 whales. Today, bowhead whales may be still threatened by loss of food sources, climate change, vessel strikes, entanglement in fishing gear, ocean noise, offshore oil and gas development, and pollution.

Commercial whaling severely reduced bowhead whale numbers from historical levels. The worldwide number of bowheads prior to commercial exploitation is estimated at a minimum of 50,000, including an estimated 10,400 to 23,000 whales in the Western Arctic stock, the stock found in U.S. waters. Commercial whaling drove global abundance down to less than 3,000 by the 1920s.

The United States listed all bowhead whales as endangered under the Endangered Species Conservation Act in 1970 and the Endangered Species Act in 1973. Bowhead whales are also listed as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Western Arctic bowheads have shown considerable recovery since the end of commercial whaling in the early 1900s, and they now comprise the largest population of bowheads in the world. The most recent stock assessment report abundance data for the Western Arctic bowhead stock, collected during spring 2011, indicates there are over 16,000 Western Arctic bowheads.

However, the smaller Okhotsk Sea population, more heavily exploited in the past, remains at a dangerously low population of only a few hundred individuals. Genetic research has shown that these two North Pacific populations are distinct, indicating that movement of individuals between the two populations is rare.

Blue Whale

The blue whale is a cosmopolitan species. It is found in all the major oceans of the world and has a tendency to remain in deep waters. It is the largest of the baleen whales, and also the largest animal to have ever lived on Earth.
The blue whale was hunted almost to extinction up until the mid-1900s. The last recorded catches were off Spain in 1978. The species is now protected globally.

There are international management regimes through NAMMCO and the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

In the most recent assessment (2018) the species is listed as ‘Endangered but increasing’ in the global IUCN red List. There are clear indications of an increase in the Central North Atlantic. It is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on both the Norwegian and Icelandic national red lists.

Sei whales occur in subtropical, temperate, and subpolar waters around the world. Often found with pollack in Norway, the name “sei” comes from the Norwegian word for pollack, “seje.”

The sei whale population has been greatly decreased by commercial whaling. During the 19th and 20th centuries, sei whales were targeted and greatly depleted by commercial hunting and whaling, with an estimated 300,000 animals killed for their meat and oil.

Commercial whaling ended for this species in 1980. Although whaling is no longer a major threat to this species, some scientific whaling continues today in Iceland and Japan. Vessel strikes and entanglement pose the biggest threat to sei whales today. The sei whale is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Today, there are around 8,600 sei whales in the North Pacific. This is only little more than 20 percent of the original population estimate of 42,000 for this area.

The total population of sei whales in all U.S. waters is unknown.

Sperm Whale

The sperm whale has the largest brain of any creature known to have lived on Earth.

Sperm whales were mainstays of whaling’s 18th and 19th century heyday. A mythical albino sperm whale was immortalized in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, though Ahab’s nemesis was apparently based on a real animal whalers called Mocha Dick. The animals were targeted for oil and ambergris, a substance that forms around squid beaks in a whale’s stomach. Ambergris was (and remains) a very valuable substance once used in perfumes.

The species is protected by the International Whaling commission moratorium, and is listed as vunerable by the IUCN.

Fin Whale

The fin whale is the second-largest species of whale. It is found throughout the world’s oceans. It gets its name from an easy-to-spot fin on its back, near its tail.

Like all large whales, fin whales were hunted by commercial whalers, which greatly lowered their population. Whalers did not target them at first, because of their speed and open ocean habitat. But, as whaling methods modernized with steam-powered ships and explosive harpoons, whalers over-hunted other species of whales they had used for oil, bone, and fat. They turned to fin whales, killing a huge number during the mid-1900s—725,000 in the Southern Hemisphere alone.

Whaling is no longer a major threat for this species. (Commercial whaling ended in the 1970s and 1980s, though some hunting continues today in Greenland through subsistence whaling allowances from the IWC Today, the biggest threat comes from vessel strikes. The fin whale is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Acts and depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.