Whales, whether it may be a baleen or toothed, are highly intelligent and sociable animals. These gentle giants once reigned the aquatic kingdom. They were on this planet long before we were, millions of years ago. They thrived in an ocean abundant with nourishment. It was the perfect environment. For millions of years they were self-sustainable.
So, what happened?
The sad reality is that they are now vulnerable. Some have already become extinct. How do we know this? There are various organizations who’s purpose is the conservation of whale species. Some of my favorites are: The Sea Sheperd Conservation Society, The Oceanic Preservation Society, and Oceana. They track, survey, and monitor the wellbeing of these mammals. Some of them go as far as physically intervening to protect them from harm.
What these caring groups have found in their research is truly disturbing. Of the 13 “Great Whale” species, 7 of them are considered endangered, and for some, the population continues to decline.
What is hurting the whales?
• Commercial whaling: Even though it may seem incredible, commercial whaling still exists. Even though the practice of this heinous act has significantly reduced, there are still parts of the ocean where this takes place. Despite it being illegal, some nations still hunt whales even in what are supposed to be considered sanctuaries. Over 1,000 whales are killed each year in the Southern Ocean. It is unfortunate that somewhere out there, there are still people who don’t respect the life of these animals who are just starting to recover as a specie.
• Ship Strikes: Heavy ship traffic from cargo, cruise, and war ships have the potential to strike and kill a whale. Speed limits have been implemented to try to avoid such tragic incidents. But that doesn’t eliminate the risk. The more we demand as consumers, the more transportation of “goods” across the ocean.
• Climate Change: The ocean is supposed to regulate itself and remain a perfect environment for the creatures dwelling within. However, climate change is causing ocean temperatures to rise. As these changes occur, the water becomes more acidic, the currents change, fish migration changes, and the food that whales depend on suddenly disappears.
• Pollution: Oil, industrial, agricultural waste, and plastic are polluting the home of innocent marine life. The greediness of industries has led to large oil spills. The over-consumption of man-made objects has inundated the ocean with plastic debris. Ocean pollution is responsible for the behavioral changes, sick health, and death of whales.
• Commercial fishing: Overfishing has pushed some species to the brink of extinction. Our demand for fish is exceeding the ocean’s ecological limits. We are literally stealing our whale’s means of sustenance when we have a perfectly way to nourish ourselves otherwise.
• Bycatch: Bycatch is a result of commercial fishing. As fish are herded into nets, other non-targeted animals are also caught. Fishing nets and gear tangle marine animals, and in mammals, cause a slow, suffocating, painful death. (Like you and I, whales cannot breathe underwater.) It is estimated that 300,000 cetaceans die of entanglement every year.
Woah. That was a lot to take in.
But, did you notice something? All of the harmful things we have mentioned have one thing in common: they are all a result of human activity. So… what do we do now? Can we actually help #savethewhales? We are still in time if we act in the following ways:
♥ Become an activist. Anyone can do it. Join a whale conservation organization (like Oceana). Become a member, donate, share posts, educate. Go on reputable whale-watching tours only, learn about these creatures, fall in love with them, and spread the word. The more you do your research, the more you’ll know what to do and not do.
♥ Reduce your energy use and help prevent the acidification of the ocean. Acidification of water could mean the loss of our corals. So, instead of driving, ride a bike when you can, use public transportation, or even walk. Be conscious as you use appliances. Invest in good, high-efficiency equipment for your home.
♥ Make sure your seafood is sustainable. In honor of 100% transparency, I will admit that I used to be a full-blown pescatarian! I feel kind of bad looking back and thinking that I contributed to bycatch and caused any level of harm to marine life. But lets face it we: we are not perfect, we can only ever imagine being perfect in everything we do. In fact, in my imaginary perfect world, we would all be vegans and we would have the ability to turn morph into mermaids on command. But the truth is that its not always a possibility. So, if we DO choose to consume seafood, what we can do is make sure it comes from a sustainable source. Be careful with labels that say “fresh caught”- this can be misleading and sound harmless- but let’s remember those giant entangling nets. When you purchase, look for labels that indicate “sustainably caught, diver caught” These are going to be pretty hard to find in most stores, so whenever in doubt, just go for another source of protein. Maybe choose something that you know has no chance of impacting the environment. You’ll feel great about it. Also- for those that go out and fish for themselves and to bring it home to the table: amazing.
♥ Rethink your use of plastic. Humans are addicted to single-use plastic and we don’t even know it. From the plastic produce bags to the plastic bottles of water to the bottle of shampoo thats in the bathroom. We are drowning in plastic and so are the animals in the ocean. Let us not forget that the plastic blag that we put our apples in that ONE TIME can resemble food to a marine animal. It is so easy to find reusable and biodegradable bags for our shopping. It is so easy to cook at home and take our lunch to work in a good ol’ reusable container. It is way cheaper to install a filter for drinking water at home than to have to buy case after case of plastic water bottles. Little by little we can become waste-free.
All of the changes and efforts we make can contribute to the restoration of our oceans and the slow but sure recovery of our precious whales. Not only whales, but also the infinite number of marine species. In the end, WE will benefit. Our existence does depend on this blue planet.
Something that seems so catastrophically imminent actually has a simple solution after all, and it starts with each one of us individually.
As one wise Rachel Carson said, “In nature nothing exists alone.”
The Big Blue Marvel