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Protecting The Whales Is An Environmental Necessity

The ocean is the greatest unknown left for humans to analyze, short of outer space. The most recent models estimate that roughly 80 percent of the world’s oceans are currently unmapped, and a shocking 91 percent of all species residing underwater are thought to be undiscovered. With this in mind, it’s not entirely impossible that any one of a variety of mythical sea monsters may actually exist somewhere far outside humanity’s detection range. But before we go on obsessing about the hypothetical Kraken that may or may not exist, we must remember the giant sea creatures that live and breathe today.

Whales are by far one of the most impressive animals living beneath the ocean’s surface.

They share a lot of parallels to humans in the way they stand apart from much of what we think about most animals. The largest of them are almost impossibly enormous – male sperm whales can weigh north of 90,000 pounds and stretch as far as 52 feet long – and their lifespan of 60 years is eerily close to that of many humans, certainly much longer than most animals. For millions of years, it was their size that allowed them to roam the seas undisturbed. Now, it is that very same attribute that is working against them. 

Image courtesy of NOAA

As commercial fishing operations ramped up over the last few decades, a problem began to emerge with whales becoming caught in gillnets. Where a krill or other small fish might be able to slip through the gaps in the netting, even the smaller whales often find themselves tightly constricted the more they fight to free themselves. The evolutionary path of these animals simply did not prepare them for the capabilities of the modern fishing industry. Because of this, it’s fair to say that humans bear the responsibility of doing whatever possible to mitigate this issue.

Thankfully, there are people dedicated to solving the problem of whale entanglement.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s whale rescue team, which recently made headlines in Hawaii for saving a humpback whale from a 500-foot fishing line wrapped around its head, is leading the charge.

But there are a host of other nonprofit organizations that are committed to whale entanglement as their primary cause, including the Whale Entanglement Team (WET) and Save The Whales. Beyond this, there are large umbrella partnerships like the West Coast Large Whale Entanglement Response Network and the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, which contain hundreds of nonprofit member organizations.

Image courtesy of NOAA

Saving more whales isn’t just good for the whale populations and the biodiversity of the marine ecosystem – it’s good for the environment overall.

Whales absorb carbon and are responsible for more than 60 percent of all carbon sequestration in the San Francisco area. Their size and build make them mobile carbon tanks, and building whale populations back to their natural levels would have an untold impact on emissions. And this isn’t temporary – whales permanently trap carbon in the form of feces, which stimulate the growth of carbon-trapping phytoplankton. On top of this, the bodies of whales sink to the ocean floor after death, keeping the carbon contained instead of leaking back into the atmosphere. In fact, it is estimated that a healthy whale population would capture nearly an additional 2 billion tons of carbon annually.

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