Blue whales are the largest animal that exists in our time and one of the most majestic. They spend their days sifting through millions of gallons of water to eat tiny microscopic krill. While they do not intend to hurt anyone, it does not mean they have not experienced a violent past. Through many different factors, including illegal fishing, the blue whale population has been decimated. However, one should not lose hope for the blue whale as, in recent years, the population has been bouncing back, albeit very slowly.
Just How Big is a Blue Whale?
It is no secret that the Blue Whale is massive; we like to compare everything big to the size of the blue whale metaphorically. Let's compare the blue whale to the size of some other objects just to establish how colossal these animals really are.
The marine mammal hits the scales between 110-120 tons and has an average length of 80-110 feet. Depending on the gender, the females tend to be bigger. That is the same weight as 120 fully-grown polar bears stuffed into an area the size of two and a half school buses.
The blue whale has even made it into the Guinness Book of World Records, boasting the largest heart on planet Earth. They weigh roughly 400 pounds and have arteries large enough for a fully-grown man to swim through.
These animals can be found in every ocean on the planet, trying to consume their calorie intake of 12,000 pounds of krill daily.
The anatomy of this animal is mind-blowing, to say the least.
History of Blue Whales and Humans
Simply put, humans and blue whales have a bloodied past.
In the early 20th century, very few laws centered around marine life conservation. This led to an attitude akin to the gold rush from whale fishermen. Any whale caught in the sights of a whaling vessel was facing a death sentence.
In the first half of the 1900s, an estimated 340,000 blue whales were hunted and killed. Most of the species' population decline was due to the commercial fishing industry. Because no regulations were in place, it was a free-for-all.
The size of the blue whale meant more meat, blubber, and oil, which were the commodities obtained when hunting these goliaths. The commercial industry also destroyed many livelihoods for locals who had been using whales as a source of survival for hundreds of years.
1966 was a year of change for commercial fishing industries. The International Whaling Committee (IWC) banned commercial whale fishing for all species. This was a win for the whales across the globe.
The IWC gave the blue whale a glimpse of hope and a chance at life.
What is Going on With the Population?
While legal and illegal fishing slaughtered thousands of whales and reduced their numbers substantially, it is not the only danger that blue whales face. Recently with the continuing production of plastics, microplastics have become a factor in the descent of the whale population.
Blue Whales are filter feeders who use their brush-like baleen at the front of their mouth to filter out water and ingest their food source, krill. Microplastics can slip past the baleen and wreak havoc on the internal organs of the whale.
Whale fishing may be illegal, but other types of fishing are not. One of the most common open ocean fishing techniques is using nets. Whales are large but not large enough not to get tangled in nets. As mammals, the blue whale needs to reach the surface to breathe from time to time.
You can see where this is going; if a whale is tangled in a net, it most often drowns.
Ships strikes are not as common as illegal fishing or whales getting tangled in nets, but they are no less fatal. A ship strike occurs when a ship and a whale collide. This also usually ends in a whale fatality.
Between overfishing in the past century and other factors such as microplastics, netting, and ship strikes, the blue whale population has been cut down to what we estimate as a population of 10,000-25,000 blue whales globally.
There is good news; however, the blue whale population has finally started to grow in recent years, but why?
Blue Whale Conservation Systems
After the IWC banned commercial whaling, the populations didn't suddenly start to recoup their losses; It has taken many years and a lot of effort to get their population back on the rise.
One of the most significant aspects that has helped these giants is bringing awareness to what is happening to them. Ironically, tourism is helping an endangered species. Whale-watching trips have been credited as one of the premier ways to show people how incredible these animals are. Being close to a blue whale puts things into perspective for many apathetic people.
Sanctuaries where these animals are observed and protected help twofold by giving the whales a safe place to exist and bringing awareness to the world.
The last piece of conservation is on the ground floor, with agencies and foundations set up to protect the whales. Agencies like the World Wildlife Fund are an advocate and huge presence in the whale conservation community. These foot soldiers are one of the main reasons Blue Whale populations are on the rise.
So, while the early 20th century brought death for blue whales, the conservation efforts of millions today are helping to reverse the destruction we have caused.