Australia’s Humpback Whale Population

The peak of Australia’s whale hunting resulted in the decimation of the east and west coast humpback whale population, and individual numbers fell as low as the hundreds. The development of the harpoon gun made whaling so effective that many species were driven to the verge of extinction. As stocks plunged in the 20th century and whale stations were unable to meet their quotas, whaling officially ended for good.

Decades later, via strong conservation education and a focus on protection, studies reveal that Australia’s humpback whale populations are increasing at remarkable rates (9% for West Coast and 10% for East Coast). A 2012 census estimated that the East and West Coast whale populations had more than 63% (East Coast) and 90% (West Coast) of the number of whales estimated in each population before the whaling era.

 

The Effect of the ‘Blackfish Documentary’

In January 2013, the expose documentary Blackfish premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, illustrating the story of Tilikum, a performing orca that killed 3 people (the most notable being whale trainer Dawn Brancheau) while in captivity. Tilikum like so many other captive orca was taken from his pod in Iceland, and scientists believe that the stress of capture combined by negative interactions with other captive orcas caused subsequent aggression and mental issues.

A little more than three years after the release of the documentary – a period marked by sustained activism and media coverage – SeaWorld (USA) officially announced on March 17, 2016, that it will officially end its orca breeding program and end orca shows at all of their theme parks. While the company recorded losses of $1.7 billion in market capitalism, combined with the loss of corporate sponsors, there are still marine parks that include performing orcas.

 

The ‘End’ of Commercial Whaling

In 1982 the International Whaling Commission voted to establish a moratorium on commercial whaling that would officially begin during the 1985-86 season. While there are a handful of countries that still hunt, both commercially and aboriginally, the number of hunted whales have dramatically decreased and far less species are susceptible to extinction.

Whales were hunted in their hundreds of thousands prior to the moratorium and subsequently many countries that were responsible for decimation are founders of eco-tourism excursions to watch the very whales they once tried to kill. A leading example are those from the Azorean islands where the resident human population once hunted Sperm whales, yet now run one of the worlds best whale watching outfits to encounter a rebounding population of Sperm whales and other baleen species.

 

The Future

Nevertheless, there is no time to relent from conserving whales. There are many species whose gestation period is simply too long to sustain a considerable population boom. For instance, Blue whales have a single calf every 3 years. This extremely long period plus the additional years nursing the calf allows ship strikes, nets and stranding’s to continue to deplete the population. While the species has made a miraculous recovery, they are still threatened.

Perhaps the most famous endangered marine mammal is the southern resident Orca. The only Orca population that is registered under the Endangered Species Act, the community has been reduced to 73 individuals. Despite humans’ support of the orca and its cultural significance to the Pacific Northwest of the Americas, there are those who continue to decimate the population and drive them to extinction. The population is made up of 3 pods, J,K and L; and in 2018 the first calf born in 3 years died only half an hour after being born. In the end, their survival depends on humans’ ability to reduce marine noise, chemical contamination and most importantly maintaining the orcas’ main source of prey, the Chinook salmon (salmon represent 97% of their diet).

 

Go Whale Watching!

To help protecting whales into the future, the best thing you can do is to educate yourself by going on a whale watching cruise and share your experience and knowledge with your family and friends.