Conservation Series: The Whale

We’re excited to announce the release of our next guest blog piece. In this series of blog posts, English department finalist Becky Cox encourages students and staff to think about and get involved in wildlife conservation. Following on from the recent headlines, here we get insight into the world of the whale. 

Welcome back to my blog, this week I am discussing the plight of the Whale. Whales are fascinating creatures that unintentionally and consistently break records. The Blue Whale at 30 metres long is the largest animal ever known to live on earth, the Sperm whale has the biggest brain of any animal and the Bowhead Whale can live over 200 years. In fact one Bowhead whale was found in 2007 with a harpoon embedded within it’s neck blubber, the harpoon dated back to 1890 and the whale having evidently survived this attack lived on to what was estimated to be a grand age of 211. Whales are categorised depending on their tooth structure and therefore how they eat. The first category, Baleen whales, have thin hair-like teeth that let in microscopic food sources such as plankton (think back to the terrifying whale scene in Finding Nemo). This diet accumulates a lot of blubber, which make these whales prime whaling targets. The other category of whale is the toothed variety that normally eat fish and are generally smaller.

Whale Picture.png

Whales are mysterious creatures and scientists know very little about their lives. However, one concept conservationists are knowledgeable about is the dwindling population. The lesser known baiji, indus susu and northern right whale are all left with fewer than 1000 of their kind with the more popular blue and humpback whale down to less than 10,000. Species such as the sperm whale have approximately 200,000, which may seem like a lot but it is considered a ‘Vulnerable’ animal as this figure is a sixth of it’s size since commercial whaling begun 200 years ago.

Whaling began in the 1800’s as the whale’s blubber was turned into oil and used to fuel lamps and lubricate machinery. It is now no longer the biggest threat to whales as the International Whaling Commission banned whaling in 1986; however, certain countries such as Japan, Norway and Iceland ignore these rules and continue to illegally hunt whales. Specific whales are targeted more than others. A Narwhal’s ivory tusk (although actually an overgrown tooth) can sell for £5000 each. Equally in Japan top end whale meat is sold for 7000¥ or £40 for one kilogram.

As we have seen recently in the news, whales can become beached very easily. There are many reasons for this such as illness, attack, and pollution.  Whales can also be hit by boats propellers and other instruments or become entangled in fishing nets. Sometimes these occurrences are immediately fatal, other times it weakens the whale inhibiting it’s ability to find food and then it starves to death.

And of course climate change is also a huge factor in the decline of the whale population. Climate change largely disrupts the food patterns for baleen whales by altering the ocean currents and distributing the krill in unfamiliar territories. Most beached whales when examined are found with large amounts of chemicals and debris in their system, the dirty oceans having a huge effect on all animals but at the top of the food chain the whale consumes an accumulative amount of poison. Oil rigs out at sea are usually noisy and intrusive which disturbs the whales hearing, breeding and migratory patterns and of course oil spills are fatal to all sea life creatures, for some species of whale the oil will clog their blowhole choking them to death.  Some whale species live solely in the Artic and therefore the warming waters reduce the area they can live in.

Many whale species are already protected, and there are several laws in place to defend the whole whale family but ultimately the populations are still declining. To slow and prevent climate change there are many actions you can personally take. I have mentioned them in my previous posts (polar bear and penguin) and they are certainly worth pursuing. To help whales specifically you can pick up any litter you see, often it gets sucked into drains which lead out to the rivers and oceans, and cut a hole in plastic bags and six pack rings if you are throwing them away so sea life and birds do not get entangled in them.

If you wish to help in a different way… here is one of many anti-whaling petitions you can sign:

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/106992

Or you can donate to prevent whaling and help whales survive and thrive in the wild:

http://uk.whales.org/donate

Or here you can adopt lots of different whale species from all around the world:

http://www.pacificwhale.org/whales

As usual below are a few pages I found very interesting:

http://www.wwf.org.uk/wildlife/whales/

http://www.defenders.org/whales/basic-facts

http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/oceans/fit-for-the-future/whaling/whaling_myths/

Thank you for reading!

-Becky Cox

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