Nearly three million whales were wiped out from whaling last century in what is likely to be the largest cull – in terms of total biomass – of any species in human history! Today, the whales and dolphins that remain face constant threats from entanglements in fishing gear, ship strikes, noise, pollution, and habitat loss.
For some, the fascination with these intelligent and majestic creatures is enough to want to save them. For others, the desire to save whales may result from the desire to save … ourselves.
Researchers from the University of Vermont and Harvard University have determined that whales’ feeding habits bring useable nutrients back to the sunlit surface waters where it can be used to “fertilize” phytoplankton, the very base of the marine food web and the source for at least half of the earth’s oxygen. The direct link between healthy whale populations and the fight against climate change continues to grow. Research published in 2014 estimated that rebuilding the Southern Hemisphere blue whale population “would be equivalent to preserving 43,000 hectares of temperate forest, an area comparable in size to the city of Los Angeles.”
Given the mounting scientific evidence documenting the important role that whales play in maintaining a healthy planet, saving whales can save us all.
Here are five simple things you can do to make a difference:
1. Choose Responsible Whale Watching Over Captivity
Captive whales and dolphins have been trained to perform tricks, day after day, for food as a reward instead of behaving naturally. The mental, emotional. and physical stress that a captive whale or dolphin suffers can weaken their immune system and make them prone to disease.
There are many fantastic opportunities to see whales and dolphins in the wild both from land and with a responsible boat operator. Seeing a whale or dolphin in the wild can be a life-changing experience. The best trips and operators have respect for the creatures and the places in which they live. Be sure to choose a responsible operator on the U.S. East Coast and in Alaska, look for the Whale SENSE logo!
2. Think Twice About the Fish on Your Plate
Fishing plays a significant role in the global economy with over 700 million people deriving their livelihood from the industry. However, the unintentional capture of non-target species, also known as bycatch, results in the deaths of more than 300,000 marine mammals each year.
3. Going to Greenland? Go Whale Watching, But Beware of Whale Meat
Over 50,000 whales have been killed since the international ban on commercial whaling was introduced in 1986 because of loopholes that have allowed some countries to carry on whaling. Sadly, the demand for whale meat generated by tourists visiting countries like Greenland is encouraging a growth in the whaling industry.
Watch out for whale meat offered on cruise ships, local restaurant menus, and in buffets or barbecues, especially in dishes identified as local favorites such as “A Taste of Greenland.” Avoid eating whale and politely tell restaurants and hotels that you would prefer they not sell it.
4. Dispose of Your Trash Responsibly and Help Others do the Same!
According to the United Nations Environment Program, 8 million pieces of marine debris enter the ocean every single day. This equates to 6.4 million tons of trash each year. Whales and dolphins can die from ingesting or becoming entangled in marine debris. In 2014, an endangered Sei whale swallowed a broken plastic DVD case which cut into her stomach and left her unable to eat. Sadly, the weakened whale was struck by a ship and killed.
The majority of marine litter enters the ocean from land. Recycle what you can, pick up trash you find, and avoid letting balloons go. Disposing of your trash responsibly is a simple and effective way to help protect whales and dolphins.
5. Use Your Words, Your Wallet and/or Your Time to Make a Difference!
There are many different issues facing whales and dolphins, and it’s hard to keep up with them all. However, there are responsible organizations, like Whale and Dolphin Conservation, whose work is focused on the conservation and welfare of these majestic creatures. Making a difference can be as simple as your signature. as many groups rely on their supporters to sign petitions or write letters to elected officials to increase protections for whales and dolphins. If you have more time, consider volunteering. If you can afford it, support an organization you trust by donating or even adopting a whale of your own!
Image source: fiatlux/Flickr