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There are a variety of whale threats, most of which being as the direct result of human activities. In the past century, many of the large whale species were hunted to the brink of extinction by commercial whaling though some of those species are now recovering now the hunts are banned in many areas of the world.
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.
Status of Feature Species:
Whale threats from Entanglement
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.
Whale threats from Commercial Whaling
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 threats from Ship Strikes
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.
Whale threats from Climate Change
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.
Other threats include the ingestion of marine debris, oil and gas development, disturbance by recreational watercraft, and noise pollution.
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