What threats are whales facing?
Whales face an increasing number of threats including:
For hundreds of years people hunted whales for their oil to fuel lamps and candles, to lubricate machinery and to make margarine, lipsticks and other products. They also used baleen whales to make tennis racquets and corsets! Today, modern technology has replaced the need for whale products, so there is no need to kill whales for their oil. Sadly, some countries still kill whales to sell whale meat for profit – a very expensive luxury for some people.
In the old days of whaling, the sailors hunted whales from sail ships and rowing boats. They chased the whales and threw hand-thrown spears called harpoons at them. However, during the late 1800s, steam powered ships replaced the old sailing boats. They could sail all over the world, even to the north and south poles, and kill whales in vast numbers. Now the whalers could chase and catch the fastest swimming whales and exploding harpoons were used to kill many large whales. Not long ago it seemed that the whales would disappear altogether and become extinct!
In 1946, the whalers decided to try to stop the whales going extinct and they formed the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The IWC decided the number of whales that could be killed every year. The IWC was made up of whaling countries and they kept killing more and more whales. Soon, so few whales of some species remained that it was no longer worth trying to find and kill them.
Today, many countries have given up whaling, including the United Kingdom. People became so concerned about how the whales were suffering and dying out that they wrote letters and signed petitions calling for all whaling to stop. Because of this, in 1982 the majority of IWC member countries voted to stop killing whales for profit. A whaling ban, or moratorium, was then introduced in 1986.
Even today, no one really knows how many whales are left. Unfortunately, some countries like Japan, Iceland and Norway have refused to stop whaling. They still kill thousands of whales each year between them.
Japan says it is killing whales for ‘scientific research’ to discover how many whales are left and if their numbers are increasing or not. However, many countries disagree and say Japan can find out this information without killing more whales. Unfortunately, the whale meat from ‘research’ is sold to expensive restaurants in Japan and makes a lot of money.
Norway hunts minke whales for profit. They want to sell the meat to Japan so they can make much more money. Fishermen say that whales and seals are eating too many fish, but this is not true. It is fishermen and big fishing boats that are catching too many fish causing fish populations to collapse, – not whales!
Climate Change and whales
Coal-burning power stations, which produce electricity, along with cars and airplanes, are some of the ways that the carbon dioxide gas reaches the atmosphere.
Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere contributes to a process called ‘global warming’, which occurs when, carbon dioxide and other gases trap energy in the atmosphere (air) making the Earth warmer. This increase in temperature is making the ice caps melt! In addition, climate change is making the weather patterns change and we are experiencing many more storms and strong winds.
Climate change is causing problems for whales. For example, it is making the sea warmer and less salty, which affects the currents. It is also reducing the food sources available for the whales.
What can you do to help protect whales from climate change?
Listed below are three simple things you and your family can do to help reduce climate change:
1) Turn off electrical appliances when you are not using them.
For example if you are not using the computer or TV – then switch it off!
2) Eat local food
Apples grow in England, however we often have them flown half way across the world from New Zealand and other countries. This releases lots of carbon into the atmosphere from planes and ships and can cause problems for whales. Instead, choose fruit and vegetables that are grown in your country wherever possible.
3) Walk and cycle instead of using the car
Pollution and whales
Pollution is rubbish! Plastic shopping bags, nappies, old fishing nets are just some of the things that end up in the sea. Plastic bags cause problems for whales as they eat them, they think it is a tasty jellyfish. However, it gives them a tummy ache and can even kill them! Whales can get tangled in old fishing nets too causing them to drown.
Pollution can also come in the form of dirty water! For example, chemicals used to grow food can wash down the rivers into the sea. Paint from boats dissolves in the water. Such toxic chemicals can make whales ill and may be causing a drop in whale numbers.
What can you do to protect whales from pollution?
1) Stop using plastic bags. Instead, take a reusable bag when you go shopping.
2) If you live near a beach, help organise a litter pick – but always have parental supervision and use correct litter picking tools i.e. protective gloves etc
3) Stop releasing balloons as these very often end up in the sea and could be eaten by whales or dolphins