Fishing is a major and ongoing threat to whales and dolphins across the world, and it is driving some species to extinction. Each year, thousands of cetaceans and other ocean life get caught in drift nets and other fishing gear. This can cause serious injury and even death, as nets can tangle, hold down, and suffocate whales and dolphins. One species that has become critically endangered from this problem is the vaquita porpoise, a small species of cetacean that lives in the Gulf of California. The vaquita has a steady prey supply and an in-tact habitat, so sadly the only reason that these animals are endangered is due to gill nets, a type of fishing gear which they can get caught in.
Photos: WDC, Barcroft, Eco Postings, Vancouver Aquarium/NOAA, Candice Emmons / NOAA Fisheries/Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
The hunting of cetaceans for their meat is still an ongoing issue in the world today. Every year in Taiji Japan, a drive hunt occurs to capture dolphins for captivity or for food. This cruel practice consists of hunters herding pods into a secluded cove, where they are either picked out to go into the marine park industry or be killed for meat. Hundreds are eliminated every year in this mass slaughter. The sad part is that most of Japan looks down on eating dolphins, but it still occurs because the captivity industry wants more animals.
In 1986 commercial whaling was banned by the International Whaling Commission due to the hunts becoming a population threat for many large species of cetaceans. Right whales, humpback whales, and fin whales were just some of the many who are now endangered because of human greed. However, even though these laws were put into place, whaling is still operated today. Iceland, Japan, and Norway are just a few of the countries which have found loopholes in the ban, saying it is for "tradition" or "scientific research". Already over 40,000 Whales have lost their lives because of this, yet the IWC and the governments of the world have yet to do anything about it.
Pollution is a major threat to cetaceans in the wild. Not only can it effect the animals themselves, but it also effects the prey they eat and the humans who live in the same area. For example, the Southern Resident killer whales who live in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States/Canada are some of the most contaminated species of cetaceans in the world. Scientific testing shows that they are highly vulnerable to PCB pollutants, and tissue samples of the whales found that their bodies contain dangerous chemicals such as insecticides. It was even found that killer whale mothers have the potential risk of passing these chemicals to their babies through their milk.
Chemicals are not the only pollutant cetaceans must face. Garbage is another issue. Have you ever thought of where that plastic grocery bag you threw away ended up? Well, often times our waste can end up in the ocean. And to a jellyfish-eating dolphin, a plastic bag can look just like their prey. In recent years we are finding more and more of these animals dying due to the consumption of human trash. As recently as December 2015, an orca was found washed up on the South African shore with pounds of garbage in her stomach. Old shoes, yogurt containers, chip bags, and plastic bags were just some of the many things found.
Another type of pollution wild whales and dolphins suffer from is noise pollution. Cetaceans are acoustic animals; their world is made of sound. They use it to communicate, hunt, travel, and do everything in their daily lives. But the ocean is changing because of man. With more boat traffic and Naval testing going on, we are creating a noisier ocean. Recent studies show that while sound helps these animals out in their daily lives, it can also lead to their demise. Navy acoustic testing has been the cause of many whale and dolphin deaths, and recent studies show that these animals are having to "yell" over shipping noise. Unlike you or me, whales and dolphins cannot simply put in earplugs to drown noise out. We are creating a sound prison for these animals, one which they cannot escape
Cetaceans face many challenges in the wild. Sadly, most of these reasons are caused by humans. Remember to always make positive environmental choices so that we can protect cetaceans for future generations!
Boat traffic causes many injuries and death to wild cetaceans every year. Boats can pose a risk to these animals when their propellors get too close, which is why there is distance laws in many countries. Not only that, when boats speed by these animals, a collision can become a very big risk. Whales and dolphins cannot escape from shipping lanes, and often times damage done to these animals can go unnoticed.
A major issue that threatens many species of cetaceans worldwide is prey loss. After all, animals need to eat to live! Prey loss can be caused by a number of reasons. One example is climate change. As the world's oceans continue to heat up, many species that whales, dolphins, and porpoises prey on cannot survive in the gradually warming waters. This has a direct effect on these animals, and it is what is driving many species to extinction.
Another reason that prey loss is occurring is human infrastructure. In the United States' Pacific Northwest region, the local population of killer whales known as the "Southern Residents" are facing this exact problem. The population of Chinook Salmon, the orca's main source of food, is plummeting at a staggering rate. But why? Well, four dams that currently reside on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers create a huge obstacle for young salmon trying to get to and from the sea. Even then, the salmon that do make it back into the system now have to face the entirely new challenge of actually migrating to their spawning grounds, as the dams had transformed the Columbia and Snake Rivers into a series of lakes that have confused the salmon's migration instincts and made them a more easy target for predators. The dams are obsolete in this day and age, and produce a minuscule amount of power for human use. To learn more about this issue and how you can help, please visit our blog post here.
Wild captures for the captivity industry are still alive and well. To learn more, go to our "Wild Capture" page in our "Captivity" section.
Climate change is a very real and serious issue facing out planet today. Sadly, this man-made catastrophe is effecting our worldwide population of cetaceans. Rising sea levels, ocean acidification, freshening of sea water, loss of habitat, and prey shortages are just some of the many issues caused by global warming.
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