Aug 08 2014 • Posted by Gabrielle Healy
Maybe I’m biased because I grew up near New Bedford, but the answer of whales comes easily if you ask me about my favorite mammal. Whether it’s their size or their song, I can’t quite put my finger on what is so awesome about them. As a result, it was upsetting to read about how new shipping lanes off of the California coast are threatening the habitat of Pacific Blue Whales. Blue whales are the largest existing animals that have ever existed, but ironically, their diet is solely composed of microscopic organisms called krill. There are certain areas and seasons where the krill catch is best, and since krill is so essential, the endangered blue whale relies on these locations to maintain their health and wellness. However, as I mentioned before, a new study has been published showing that shipping lanes near San Francisco and Santa Barbara ‘bisect major feeding grounds’ for the animals. These routes increase the probability that whales might be struck by gigantic shipping vessels, injuring or killing them. In addition, the noise pollution underwater creates major challenges for the whales, who primarily communicate via “songs” to each other. These “songs” may be a major part of courtship rituals, and, well, the population of endangered whales, no matter their species, can never recover unless there is some magic in the whale mating department.
However, there are some solutions to the problem. Whales are migratory creatures, and as a result, shipping lanes could be modified during the summer and fall, when the density of krill is highest in these areas. Another potential fix is imposing speed limits during these seasons to make it easier for whales to move away from ship’s paths. Furthermore, innovations in sonar technology might make it easier for ships to steer around pods of whales. Solutions like these have already been implemented on the East Coast as a result of similar problems involving the North Atlantic Right Whale, whose low numbers have made an slightly encouraging, though slow, rebound in the past years. I find it very distressing that our ever-increasing need for STUFF (the primary reason for these shipping lanes from Asia to the coasts of the Americas is to transport goods created across the Pacific) was the reason for the whale population’s original decline, and now our population is not doing what it can to assuage the damage wreaked by over-whaling in the 18th and 19th centuries. A blue whale’s heart is the size of a small car, and it pains me to think that an evolutionary miracle such as this one could be interrupted.
I will be blogging about whales again next week. In the meantime, here are some links for more reading/watching about the creatures of the deep.
Whale, see you later!
PS- That whale was a pun about well.