For this week’s “Wildlife A to Z”, we look at “W” for “Whaling.
As a species focus, we will discuss humpback whales in specific. Between the 1800’s and 1900’s, humpback whales were hunted extensively with the peak of commercial whaling practices. Note, this is different from traditional subsistence practices by Indigenous Peoples. The Salish Sea in particular has always held a high diversity and number of cetacean (whale, dolphin, porpoise) species, holding important cultural and subsistence value for many Indigenous Peoples, such as the Nuu-chah-nulth and Makah Peoples.
A major driver for commercial whaling was due to the need for “whale oil”, which was used in lighting lamps. Before a final moratorium by the IWC (International Whaling Commission) on commercial whaling in 1985, most global populations of humpback whales had already become greatly reduced, most by more than 95 percent (nearly extinct). Some scientists believe that a greater number of whales (not just humpback whales) were hunted in the 1900’s than the 400 years prior.
Since the moratorium, many species have been increasing in abundance. Humpback whales are increasing throughout much of their range and regaining historical numbers. However, humpback whales still face threats, such as entanglement in fishing gear and habitat change/ impact. In recent years here in the Salish Sea, we have had a ‘humpback comeback’; meaning the population has been making a remarkable recovery.
The first humpback whale that famously returned here to the Salish Sea was ‘Big Mama’ who has since returned and led her 6 subsequent calves here too!
Information: The National Wildlife Federation, National Geographic Society, IWC, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Whales and Whalers in Nuu-chah-nulth Archaeology (Alan D. McMillan), NOAA…..