Humpback Whales Make a Remarkable Comeback Off the Coast of Washington State
The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) is an international environmental agreement created to save a wide variety of whales from extinction. Many species had been hunted to near-extinction by industrial whaling practices in the 20th century.
The Convention was spearheaded by the United States and signed by 15 of the largest whaling nations in Washington in 1946. Oversight and enforcement is conducted by the
International Whaling Commission [IWC], established by the convention as its main decision-making body. The IWC was originally intended to regulate annual catch limits and establish protected areas for endangered species, but in 1982 it mandated a moratorium on all commercial whaling and in 2018 permanently ended the practice except in very rare circumstances of aboriginal subsistence whaling.
None of this has been easy because whaling was such an integral part of the culture and economy of some communities. Over the years a variety of nations including Japan, Iceland, and Norway withdrew from the agreement. Japan opted out again in 2018, but has limited its whaling to its exclusive economic zone off its coastline.
While the IWC has not stopped all commercial whaling, it has dramatically reduced the practice, giving most species a chance to recover. Experts agree that without the moratorium whales would have been hunted to extinction.
The Conversation: "The IWC’s moratorium on commercial whaling has broadly been a success – whale populations have increased where whaling was the primary threat."
One recent success story has been humpback whales in waters off the coast of Washington state and British Columbia in the Salish Sea. 25 years ago humpbacks were endangered and their population had plummeted in the waters of British Columbia.
Erin Gless, Executive Director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association: “25 years ago, here off of inland B.C. waters, we had zero humpback whales, so this is a new phenomenon in our waters … they’ve made up for lost time. We are seeing lots and lots of whales, which is super exciting.”
And, 2021 has been a banner year for female humpbacks coming into the Salish Sea with new calves, According to the Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA), there have been 21 calves photographed in the Salish Sea this year, a record number and twice as many as last year.
According to experts, humpbacks have also rebounded in the South Pacific, reaching numbers last seen before the birth of commercial whaling.
Time: "A recent study on humpbacks that breed off the coast of Brazil and call Antarctic waters home during the summer has shown that these whales can now be found in the sort of numbers seen before the days of whaling. Records suggest that in the 1830s there were around 27,000 whales but, after heavy hunting, by the mid-1950s only 450 remained."
Challenges like climate change remain, but the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling demonstrates what the international community we can do to preserve vital species from extinction.
By: Don Lam & Curated Content