There’s something timeless about watching a whale shoot water out of its blowhole. We’ve all been mesmerized by these majestic creatures on TV – whether it’s someone finding peace in their belly or a whale coming to the rescue of humans.
These massive and impressive animals that rule over the marine world are, unfortunately, one of the most endangered species on our planet.
Whales are a crucial part of marine life, with many unique species that have their own special features. However, in the last hundred years, many whale species have suffered significant population losses, and some are on the brink of extinction, with only a handful of individuals remaining. There are several reasons behind these declining numbers.
In this article, we’ll dive into the 11 most endangered whales and take a deep look into the main reasons for their endangerment.
1. North Atlantic Right Whale – Critically Endangered
The North Atlantic right whale, one of three species, is critically endangered- with less than 500 individuals remaining.
Right whales were a popular target for whalers in the past due to their high blubber content and convenient location near shore.
Although no longer hunted commercially, the species still faces threats from human activities such as fishing gear entanglement and ship collisions.
A vast majority have been strangled at least once, and even if it’s not fatal, it causes low reproductive rates. Over the past decade, at least 60 North Atlantic right whales died from net entanglement or ship strikes.
2. North Pacific Right Whale – Critically Endangered
North Pacific right whales were heavily hunted by whalers in the 19th century, and estimates suggest that between 26,500 and 37,000 were caught.
The global population of the species is now estimated to be less than 1,000, with only 30 to 35 individuals in the northeastern Pacific Ocean around Alaska.
Ship collisions and climate change pose significant threats to the species, which is also endangered by noise and water pollution. Changes in sea ice coverage can impact the whale’s food source, making it challenging to conserve.
The species lack a predictable habitat, making it difficult to observe reliably. Although commercial whaling is no longer a threat, the small population size and ongoing threats make conservation efforts crucial.
3. Sei Whale – Endangered
The sei whale is all over the ocean. They weren’t hunted much in the past because they didn’t have as much blubber, but in the mid-1900s, they were overfished because other whale populations were depleted.
Now they’re endangered, but the Japanese government lets the ICR catch around 100 a year for “scientific research,” although some groups say they’re just using that as an excuse to sell whale meat.
In 2015, over 300 sei whales were found dead on the shores of southern Chile, possibly due to toxic algal blooms. With climate change heating up the oceans, this could become a bigger threat to their survival.
4. Blue Whale – Endangered
The blue whale, also known as Balaenoptera musculus, is the biggest known animal to ever exist, growing up to around 100 feet in length and weighing a maximum of 190 tons.
Prior to the 19th century, this species was found abundantly in all oceans worldwide. However, commercial whaling severely impacted the population, leading to the killing of over 380,000 blue whales by whalers between 1868 and 1978.
Presently, the blue whale’s global population is estimated to be around 10,000-25,000, a sharp contrast from the 250,000-350,000 estimated at the beginning of the 20th century. Therefore, the IUCN has classified the blue whale as an endangered species.
Although commercial whaling has stopped, ship strikes pose a significant threat to blue whales, especially those found off the southern coast of Sri Lanka and the western coast of the United States, where commercial ship traffic is high. Climate change also presents a severe danger to the species, as it causes a decrease in krill populations, the primary food source of blue whales.
5. Western Gray Whale – Endangered
The gray whale has two separate populations located in the eastern and western North Pacific oceans.
Both populations were heavily hunted, but the eastern population has recovered to around 27,000 individuals, while the western population has only around 300 individuals. The western population has shown signs of recovery, leading to a change in its IUCN status from Critically Endangered to Endangered.
However, the western gray whale faces many threats, such as getting caught in fishing nets, ship strikes, and pollution. Offshore oil and gas operations have become a growing concern as they occur near the whales’ feeding grounds and may expose them to toxins from oil spills and disturb them with increased ship traffic and drilling.
6. Narwhal Whales – Near Threatened
Narwhals are amazing creatures with those long tusks sticking out of their heads.
They’re often called the “unicorns of the sea” because of their unique look, and they change color as they grow up. They start off blue-gray, then turn blue-black, then mottled gray, and finally end up all-white when they’re old.
Unfortunately, there are only three types of Narwhals left in the Arctic, which used to be their main habitat.
One of the biggest reasons they’re in danger is because people hunt them for their tusks. Climate change and ship collisions aren’t helping either. It’s a tough situation, and we need to do something about it.
7. Sperm Whale – Endangered
Sperm whales are the kings of the toothed whales and are expert predators. They also go by the name of cachalot.
Being a part of the Physeter family, they can live up to 70 years, which is pretty impressive!
They have a vast global distribution, from the equator to the fringes of the Arctic and Antarctic pack ice.
Unfortunately, they were extensively hunted by the commercial whaling industry from 1800 until 1987, causing a significant decline in their population. Although whaling is no longer a major threat, the sperm whale is still recovering.
Currently, it’s classified as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act and a depleted species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
8. Fin Whale – Endangered
Did you know that the fin whale, also known as Balaenoptera physalus, is the second-largest whale in the world?
They’re called “fin” whales because of their hook-shaped dorsal fin that takes up about two-thirds of their body.
One of the coolest things about them is their unique coloring: they’re black or dark brownish-gray on top and white on the bottom. Unfortunately, these amazing creatures are in danger of extinction.
Back in the late 1900s, people were hunting fin whales left and right, which really took a toll on their population. Since 1970, they’ve been considered endangered under the Endangered Species Conservation Act and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Plus, they’re now listed as endangered under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
9. Bowhead Whale – Critically Endangered
Bowhead whales are believed to be the oldest mammals on earth and can live for over 100 years. They’re unique because they can survive in icy waters too. But, unfortunately, they’re critically endangered now because of commercial whaling.
People have been hunting them since the 1800s for their oil and baleen, which caused their population to drop to less than 3000 in 1921. Although whaling was banned in 1921, their population is still decreasing due to food shortages, pollution, vessel strikes, predators, and climate change.
Because of this, they’re listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It’s such a shame to see such an ancient and fascinating species at risk of disappearing.
10. Humpback Whale – Least Concern
Humpback whales are incredible creatures that migrate across oceans, sing beautiful songs, and use bubble nets to catch fish.
They feed on krill, fish, and plankton. Humpback whales are known for their acrobatic displays, with their 52-foot length and 30 to 50-ton weight. They can be found in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Unfortunately, humpback whales were heavily targeted by commercial whaling in the past, leading to their endangerment. However, they were one of the first species to be protected under the Endangered Species Conservation Act and the Endangered Species Act in 1970 and 1973, respectively.
Due to conservation efforts, their population has increased from 10,000 to 15,000 to nearly 80,000 today.
11. Beluga Whale – Critically Endangered
Beluga whales, also known as White Whales, are a distinct and remarkable species of whales with a unique color that sets them apart from other species.
Their highly social and vocal behavior has earned them the nickname “chirrups,” and they communicate using a distinct language of clicks, clangs, and whistles.
Unfortunately, these bubbly whale populations are predicted to face extinction in the near future. Although their population in the United States remains stable, they are endangered in other regions of the world due to ship collisions being the leading cause.
It is essential to raise awareness about the dangers faced by these intelligent and unique creatures and take measures to prevent their extinction.
Conservation efforts, including strict regulations on shipping routes and habitat protection, can help ensure the survival of this remarkable species and prevent their loss from the world’s oceans.