The threats to humpback whales are many. They are being poached for their meat – which can mean death for these gentle creatures. Poaching is a problem in many parts of their range, including their coastal areas where they are hunted for their meat. Other threats include ships, which often accidentally hit whales, creating large numbers of dead whales. There are also problems creating more marine sanctuaries and stopping the push towards human fishing.
One of the worst things for whales in the Southern Oceans (which also includes Pacific) is ship noise. Humpbacks travel up to 5 hours a day, using sonar to navigate. When ships come too close, whales become disturbed and, in some cases, attack. Some experts believe this is because of ship noise, others because of the stress of being attacked. Either way, the phenomenon has led to the reduction of certain population points in certain areas, like Whalesback in New Zealand.
One of the largest albatrosses – the smallest among the living creatures – is the Rockhopper. They are less than two feet long and weigh a little over a ton. Although the Rockhopper is the smallest whale in the ocean, it is far and away the most endangered whale in the world. These poor creatures depend largely on their near-complete food supply in the summer feeding grounds of Alaska and Baffin Bay for survival. Their slow movement means they can’t travel back south for food if their current route is blocked. If something happens to their food source, they will become even more at risk.
The threat to whales from other threats to their wintering grounds comes from their natural enemies – predatory birds and fish. A recent study found that predatory birds, like eagle rays, ravens, and even hawks have been found nesting within the dens of whales. And while the numbers have dropped off somewhat in the past decade, some experts think that the number of birds nesting in the winter has been steadily rising.
One final thing to consider is what kind of food these animals eat. They primarily eat fatty fish, but even these items are threatened by growing pollution in the north Pacific. Plus, the warming of the north Pacific has led to higher water temperatures, which kills off many of the humpback’s prey species. One recently undiscovered species of fish is the rare yellowfin tuna. Because of their shrinking population, the endangered species act humpbacks must rely on oil and gas spills for their food.
While none of these threats are as severe as the ones created by humans, they do affect the lives of these massive creatures. Merely ten percent of humpback whale populations die due to natural causes every year. Other threats to these massive mammals include commercial fishing, ship-smuggling, accidental entanglement of nets along coastlines, the illegal trade of large marine creatures like dolphins, and even increased shipping lanes into the center of the ocean, which threaten to disturb and/or destroy humpback whale migration routes. Whaling, like most types of whale conservation, is only possible with active, vigilant participation from the international community. In this way, we can help to save the whales’ future and their homes.