Monday, December 14, 2009

Conservation and Status of the Gray Whale

Three distinct populations of Gray Whales once existed. The north Atlantic population is now extinct, and the western Pacific population along the Russian and Asian coast may be depleted beyond recovery. The eastern Pacific population along the Canadian, U.S. and Mexican coastline was hunted to the brink of extinction in the 1850s after the discovery of the calving lagoons and again in the early 1900s when floating factories were introduced. Observers estimated that only a few thousand remained in 1900.

In 1947, the International Whaling Commission granted Gray Whales full protection, allowing only aboriginal peoples to hunt them for subsistence. Fifty years later, the eastern north Pacific Gray whale population appeared to have recovered, leading to the whale’s removal from the U.S. Endangered Species list in 1994. Some reports show the number reaching a pre-exploitation level of 26,000 in 1998. Since then, the number has declined to approximately 18,000. No one knows for sure, but some scientists believe the Gray Whale’s environment can only sustain this number. Despite its removal from the endangered list, the Gray Whale continues to be threatened by:

• Whaling by aboriginal people in Russia (180 taken annually)
• Deaths resulting from entanglement in fishing gear and boat strikes
• Loss of breeding grounds and food supplies
• Pollution, chemicals and garbage, especially plastics dumped in the ocean
• Commercial activity such as offshore drilling
• Predator attacks. (Orcas are the only natural predators of Gray Whales.)