Human activity has brought whale populations to a “knife edge”
Without immediate and concrete action to protect whales, dolphins and porpoises many species will “likely be declared extinct within our lifetimes”, according to a group of 350 scientists and conservationists from 40 countries.
Their stark warning is outlined in a letter that holds “our increasingly busy, polluted, over-exploited and human-dominated seas and major river systems” responsible for bringing cetaceans to the brink of preventable extinction.
Research shows that half of all species of cetaceans have a concerning conservation status with over 40 species and subspecies listed as “Endangered” or “Critically Endangered”. Two species in particular are on a “knife edge” because of “the serious failure of its relatively wealthy range countries to address a critical decline.” These include the large North Atlantic right whale and the vaquita, with an estimated population of just 10.
The letter states it is now “almost inevitable” that these species will follow the same path as the baiji and Chinese river dolphin into extinction.
In recent years, countries, media outlets and conservation groups alike have applauded the slow but steady rise in specific whale numbers, such as the blue whale. But the overall picture remains bleak. It is estimated that pre whaling, 4-5 million whales existed around the world. Today, whale populations are less than a quarter of that.
Why does it matter?
Cetaceans are the guardians of ocean health and a major part of marine ecosystems. Having fed primarily on plankton and small fish, their excrement acts as a manure for the ocean, feeding phytoplankton. These creatures not only provide food for small fish and aquatic creatures (and therefore create healthy ecosystems), but provide the world with 80% of our oxygen.
Simply put, if cetaceans die then the oceans die. If the oceans die, then life on Earth – including us – dies. This nightmare situation could be as soon as two decades away unless urgent action is taken.
What can be done?
Cetaceans are threatened by a multitude of human activities. The most prominent include chemical contamination, noise pollution, loss of habitat, declining fish populations, climate change and hunting.
Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Japan, Norway, Russia, South Korea and the US continue to hunt whales today. Iceland, Japan and Norway in particular want a return to commercial whaling and a lifting of international protections on whale hunting.
However, the way humans fish the oceans is probably the leading cause of decline in global whale populations. Illegal fishing practices continue around the world, where whales and dolphins are regularly caught in drag nets and fishing lines that are hundreds of miles long. Every month, millions of tonnes of fishing gear are lost at sea that go on to kill marine life for decades to come.
The responsibility to protect our whales, dolphins and porpoises – and in doing so, protect all life on – lies within the individual actions of us all. The laws needed can only be implemented at national and international level, but that won’t happen unless we make our voices heard.
- Write to your government representative and demand what action they intend to take on preventing the continual decline of cetacean populations and in doing so, protect all life on Earth.
- Demand your governments take immediate action to end unsustainable fishing practices around the world and not just in their own waters.
- Fishing is the biggest threat to cetacean populations. Reduce your fish consumption and only buy from MSC blue label certified suppliers (below). Ignore greenwash tactics like “dolphin safe” and other ambiguous logos.
- If you are a citizen of a whaling nation (see above), write to your representatives demanding an outright ban on cetacean hunting.
- Check your cosmetics – particularly sun creams. Many products are filled with harmful chemicals that leach into the sea. If it contains oxybenzone (also known as benzophenone-3 or BP-3) then don’t buy it.
- Carbon emissions are causing sea temperatures and acidification to rise, disrupting marine ecosystems and threatening life on Earth. Be part of the global revolution and reduce your carbon footprint by switching to a renewable energy provider, not driving a fossil fuel car.
- Reducing your meat intake and avoid fast fashion products.