Why Are Whales Endangered
Whales are endangered from a variety of threats, most of which are the direct result of human activities. Historically, a number of the large whale species were hunted almost to extinction by commercial whaling.
Today some of these whale populations are stable or slowly increasing while others continue to decline. Of the 13 "Great Whale" species, 7 of them are currently classified as endangered or vulnerable.
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Status of Feature Species
Gray Whale: Least Concern (Western Pacific subpopulation is Critically Endangered, *ESA Status- Western North Pacific-Endangered)ESA = US Endangered Species Act
Reasons Why Whales Are Endangered
Whales are susceptible to entanglement in commercial fishing gear. This can slow whales down, weakening them, and can prohibit them from feeding leading to eventual starvation and death.
In some areas, networks are set up to disentangle whales that are reported to be in trouble. The North Atlantic Right whale off the US East Coast is especially vulnerable to entanglement.
Commercial whaling began in the 1800's and nearly drove some whale species to extinction. Some species have still not recovered from being hunted and are currently listed as endangered. Although commercial whaling is not the biggest threat facing whales today, it still exists.
In the Southern Ocean, despite being a whale sanctuary, some nations are still hunting there, killing more than 1,000 whales each year despite it being illegal.
Whale habitat and migration corridors overlap with areas of heavy ship traffic. Cargo ships, cruise ships, and tankers are almost always lethal when they strike a whale. In some areas, reduced speeds have been implemented where interaction between ship traffic and whales is most likely to occur.
Climate change has a multitude of effects on the oceans which can have adverse impacts on marine mammals. Most large whale species depend on krill, a small shrimp-like crustacean, and fish as prey.
As ocean temperatures rise from climate change, prey populations can be affected. Climate change also affects ocean currents altering prey distribution, feeding grounds and migratory pathways of whales.
Pollution from human activities results in substances like PCB's, heavy metals, and pesticides being present in the environment. These toxins build up, or bioaccumulate, in the tissues of organisms and increase as organisms move up the food chain.
Organisms at the top of the food chain, such as orcas, are affected the most and carry the highest loads of toxins in their bodies. Over time these toxins can cause immune and reproductive disorders as well as chronic disease and death.
Other threats include the ingestion of marine debris, oil and gas development, disturbance by recreational watercraft, and noise pollution.
Least Concern: Species that do not qualify for the other categories.
Data Deficient: Species that cannot be evaluated because of insufficient information.
Critically Endangered: Species is considered to be facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.