For decades, blue whales inhabiting the US west coast waters were slowly going extinct from years of hunting. The blue whale, also known as the Balaenoptera musculus, the largest animal on the planet, saw devastation in its population because of whaling.
The incredible creatures grow to nearly 100 feet and weigh more than 160 tons; they are more than twice as large as the biggest land dinosaurs that have been discovered to date. The poaching of these whales didn’t become an issue until the late 19th century, because the animals were too large and powerful to pursue. But as technology developed and people started using steamboats and advanced harpoon guns, people could go after the creatures for oil and meat.
Currently, the blue whale population in the eastern North Pacific is considered “depleted” under the US Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the species is listed as endangered on the “red list” category by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. A recent publication in Marine Mammal Science from a team at the University of Washington in Seattle is suggesting that the current eastern North Pacific population of around 2,200 blue whales is probably at 97% of what the ecosystem can actually support.
“Not all news is bad news,” writes Brad Plumer for Vox, of the current state of blue whales in the greater context of endangered marine animals. “It’s easy to get pessimistic about the state of the oceans,” he writes, “Coral reefs are dying. Various fish species are getting wiped out by overfishing. Jellyfish are taking over,” of some current concerns. Happily, after years of being threatened, the blue whale population could be on the rise.
Whale numbers are still bleak in Antarctica, around 1,700 whales in the late 1990s. Many of the whales are still in danger from being rammed by huge ships, but the recent study doesn’t see this threat as serious enough to prevent the California blue whale population from rebounding. Now that whaling has been banned globally, it seems the population of blue whales is on the rise, at least on the California coast.
For further reading about blue whales and their population’s recovery, be sure to read the recent study published in “Marine Mamma Science.”