The blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) is a marine mammal belonging to the suborder of baleen whales (called Mysticeti). At 30 metres (98 ft) in length and 180 metric tons (200 short tons) or more in weight, it is the largest known animal to have ever existed.
Long and slender, the blue whale's body can be various shades of bluish-grey dorsally and somewhat lighter underneath. There are at least three distinct subspecies: B. m. musculus of the North Atlantic and North Pacific, B. m. intermedia of the Southern Ocean and B. m. brevicauda (also known as the pygmy blue whale) found in the Indian Ocean and South Pacific Ocean. B. m. indica, found in the Indian Ocean, may be another subspecies. As with other baleen whales, its diet consists almost exclusively of small crustaceans known as krill.
Blue whales are not easy to catch or kill. Their speed and power meant that they were rarely pursued by early whalers, who instead targeted sperm and right whales. In 1864, the Norwegian Svend Foyn equipped a steamboat with harpoons specifically designed for catching large whales. Although initially cumbersome and with a low success rate, Foyn perfected the harpoon gun, and soon several whaling stations were established on the coast of Finnmark in northern Norway. Because of disputes with the local fishermen, the last whaling station in Finnmark was closed down in 1904.
Soon, blue whales were being hunted in Iceland (1883), the Faroe Islands (1894), Newfoundland (1898), and Spitsbergen (1903). In 1904-05 the first blue whales were taken off South Georgia. By 1925, with the advent of the stern slipway in factory ships and the use of steam-driven whale catchers, the catch of blue whales, and baleen whales as a whole, in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic began to increase dramatically. In the 1930–31 season, these ships caught 29,400 blue whales in the Antarctic alone. By the end of World War II, populations had been significantly depleted, and, in 1946, the first quotas restricting international trade in whales were introduced, but they were ineffective because of the lack of differentiation between species. Rare species could be hunted on an equal footing with those found in relative abundance.
Arthur C. Clarke, in his 1962 book Profiles of the Future, was the first prominent intellectual to call attention to the plight of the blue whale. He mentioned its large brain and said, "we do not know the true nature of the entity we are destroying."
Blue whale hunting was banned in 1966 by the International Whaling Commission, and illegal whaling by the USSR finally halted in the 1970s, by which time 330,000 blue whales had been caught in the Antarctic, 33,000 in the rest of the Southern Hemisphere, 8,200 in the North Pacific, and 7,000 in the North Atlantic. The largest original population, in the Antarctic, had been reduced to 0.15% of their initial numbers.
Several species of small whales are caught as bycatch in fisheries for other species. In the Eastern Tropical Pacific tuna fishery, thousands of dolphins drowned in purse-seine nets, until preventive measures were introduced. Gear and deployment modifications, and eco-labelling (dolphin-safe or dolphin-friendly brands of tuna), have contributed to a reduction in dolphin mortality by tuna vessels.
source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Seven out of the 13 great whale species are still endangered or vulnerable, even after decades of protection. Whales, dolphins and porpoises are succumbing to new and ever-increasing dangers. Collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear threaten the North Atlantic right whale with extinction, while the Critically Endangered Western North Pacific gray whale is at serious risk because of intensive oil and gas development in its feeding grounds.
Alarm is also growing over other hazards including toxic contamination, the effects of climate change and habitat degradation.
It's illegal, but it still happens: commercial whaling
Despite a moratorium on commercial whaling and the declaration of virtually the whole of the Southern Ocean as a whale sanctuary, each year over 1,000 whales are killed for the commercial market.
What WWF is doing
In order to help secure the future of the world's whales, WWF is developing an ambitious conservation programme for endangered whale species and populations.
Reduce the threats to increase their numbers
The WWF Cetaceans Action Plan aims to ensure that by 2012, a significant reduction of threats to cetacean populations that are either currently endangered, or are likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future, is achieved.
WWF is working for a significant reduction of threats to endangered populations of great whales as well as several smaller cetaceans.
The organization is also combating risks to whales by lobbying to bring whale hunting under the strict control of the International Whaling Commission, through field research, training and capacity building, conservation education, and by securing improved national and international action and agreements.
Through support to TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring programme of WWF and IUCN, the organisation is closely investigating and monitoring the illegal trade in whale meat.
Warming oceans can affect the food of whales and dolphins. Large patches of tiny plants and animals that they feed on will likely move or change in abundance as climate change alters seawater temperature, winds and ocean currents.
In addition, the loss of sea ice in the Arctic and the Antarctic may affect sources of food. These changes can mean whales such as humpbacks and blues may have to migrate much further to reach feeding grounds. Longer migrations will not only have a higher energy cost for these whales, some of which have already travelled thousands of miles, but will also leave them with less time to forage for food. The shift in food availability due to climate fluctuations has already hurt the reproductive rates of the endangered North Atlantic right whale.
Endangered (IUCN 3.1)
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