Happy World Whale Day — Saving the Whales:  Progress, Threats, and New Hope

Photo: Cabo Adventures

By Patrick Ramage, Director – Marine Conservation, International Fund for Animal Welfare

This World Whale Day, as whale-huggers and marine conservationists from Maui to Monterey, Monaco to Mombasa measure recent progress, there is much to celebrate. As we assess prospects for actually “saving the whales” in the 21st century, there is also much cause for concern.

The progress is leviathan. After decades of international pressure and dwindling domestic support, the Government of Japan ended its high seas whaling around Antarctica and in the North Pacific and shut down the long-running sham of “scientific” whaling.  Iceland’s controversial commercial whale hunts are also dead in the water, a shift driven by domestic stakeholders including elected leaders and the ecotourism industry.

Meanwhile, responsible whale watching continues to expand in both countries, delivering tangible benefits to Japanese and Icelandic communities from Okinawa to Akureyri.  As a friend of mine says, animals and people both do better when whales are seen and not hurt.

The historic threat of whaling has receded, but others have begun to surface — right in North America’s backyard. Species including the North Atlantic right whale – of which just 400 remain – now face more threats than ever before. Entanglements in fishing gear, collisions with high-speed vessels, underwater noise pollution, marine plastics, and climate change all threaten their survival.

Yet there is hope: Ten new right whale calves have been sighted so far this year.  Accelerated action, innovation, and a solutions-oriented approach among key stakeholders will give them a fighting chance. Let’s get to work.

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