Making a comeback: How the population of blue whales is recovering

Marion Fernandez

The blue whale is not only the largest animal known to man, with impressive lengths in excess of 100 feet and weighing more than 150 tons, it is also a species that was hunted to the point of near extinction. Because of the large size of blue whales, they provide a large amount of blubber, meat, and even their bones, which have been used in the fabrication of umbrellas and corsets, were of great value.

Hunting them became more popular as humanity began to depend on oil products as our societies advanced during the 18th and 19th centuries. Blue whales, which used to be large in number, were over-hunted and have been protected since 1931 when various countries realized that the species had experienced a drastic reduction in population and they remain on the endangered species list today.

Man and majestic beast
Man and majestic beast

Yet, even with the initially bleak outlook for the future of the blue whale, the population numbers have been showing some signs of improvement, providing us with optimism that they may, one day, prosper in the ocean again.

The Efforts

The efforts to keep the blue whale populations up have been ongoing for a little under a century. But the reality of extensive whaling meant that the whale populations were hit hard all over the world for a good couple of centuries before anyone really acknowledged what the practice had been doing whale numbers. Whales do not reproduce quickly, and were unable to cope with the rate at which they were being hunted.

The international agreements had countries agreeing to not hunt the whales to allow them to replenish. But the issue is that, unfortunately, not all countries agreed to the terms and illegal hunting continued to take place, and in some places still continues, even with the obvious concern that there simply are not enough whales in the oceans for people to exploit.

Does it Matter?

The eating habits of whales helps maintain a stable food chain in the oceans
The eating habits of whales helps maintain a stable food chain in the oceans

Of course, on one level, we want to save the whales because it is a tragedy for any creature to vanish from the Earth, but there are more reasons than that to want the whales to remain. Whales have a huge impact on the environment and the ecosystem of the oceans. Through their dietary habits, the blue whale affects the food chain. One single whale can eat as much as 40 million krill in a day, so removing that one whale means there is millions of uneaten krill left in the ocean. The other creatures in the food chain will soon overshoot, destroying ecosystems and changing the landscape of the ocean itself. So it is vital to the balance of the oceans that the blue whales remain and their populations continue to increase.

The Future

It is important to remember that there are several kinds of blue whales out there and their populations are sitting at a variety of levels. Some blue whales, including the Antarctic blue (Balaenoptera musculus intermedia), the southern right (Eubalaena australis), and the fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) have not recovered their numbers despite conservation efforts. The current forecast states the whales may reach their pre-hunting levels by the 22nd century, showing that they are not rebounding as quickly as had been previously hoped.

We are still learning about the complex lives of these intelligent creatures
We are still learning about the complex lives of these intelligent creatures

But while some blue whale populations are slow to improve, other varieties are recovering more quickly because they are faster and more efficient at breeding, thus boosting their numbers naturally. The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) and the Antarctic minke (Balaenoptera bonaerensis) are showing definite signs of a strong recovery, and the current projection has their numbers expecting to reach the pre-whaling level within the next 30 years.

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marion-fernandez is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival