Whales are some of the most awe-inspiring animals on the planet. They command the world’s oceans with such grace and wisdom, working in complete harmony with their environment in spite of their enormous size. Blue whales can reach lengths of 100 feet and while other species might not reach this size, they still dwarf humans in comparison.
In addition to being commanding their size, whales are equally matched in their intelligence. The brain of the orca is four times larger than the human brain, weighing in at 12 pounds. Their brains have been evolving for millions of years, while modern-day humans first emerged about 200,000 years ago. They’re also known to be one of the only animals who evolved according to their culture, like humans.
These animals also have an incredible capacity for compassion. We’ve seen an orca pod help their disabled brother to survive by supplying him with food. Each species of whale has its own distinct dialect and dynamic social and familial structure, but they all share a humbling sense of power and knowledge of their role in the ocean’s ecosystem.
The immense wonder inspired by whales can lead us to believe they’re untouchable, but unfortunately, even the world’s largest creatures are at the mercy of human actions.
It is impossible to look at this image of a Grey whale’s eye captured by photographer Christopher Swann and not be moved by this creature. Knowing what we do about whales it is easy to be immediately infatuated with these creatures, but unfortunately, we have responded to this obsession with whales by capturing them from the wild and placing them on display for our entertainment. While this understandably harms the wild pod when an individual is removed, the popularity of marine captivity speaks to our larger disconnect with these animals and their natural home.
Every year, we dump a total of 8.8 million tons of plastic into the world’s oceans. Not only does this plastic take thousands of years to break down, but it contains toxic compounds and pollutants that pose a serious threat to marine life. Around 700 marine species are in danger of extinction because of our plastic habit and we have seen countless stories of massive whales washing ashore with bellies filled with plastic trash.
Adding insult to injury, we’re jeopardizing the ocean ecosystem through rampant overfishing for commercial fisheries. It has been estimated that the world’s fish stocks could collapse as soon as 2048 due to the rate at which were pulling fish out of the oceans for our consumption. Effectively, scientists have estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050 if we continue business as usual.
Between marine captivity, plastic, and overfishing, we’re putting the world’s whales in dire conditions. Although whales might seem enormous and invincible as result, we cannot forget that they are still at our mercy. Their survival relies on our actions, and in turn. our actions to protect whales is also tied to our own survival. We need whales to have healthy oceans and we need healthy oceans because they provide around 70 percent of the oxygen we breathe and act as powerful carbon sinks to slow climate change. With each whale we harm by way of trash, captivity, or overfishing, we harm ourselves.
It is time we stopped seeing ourselves in an isolated bubble but recognize that every single action we take sends a ripple across the planet. If these ripples can disturb an animal as great as a whale, then we know we are doing something wrong.
To learn about how you can take action and help protect whales with your daily actions, click here.
Image source: Christopher Swann