Why Do Whales Matter?

When Captain James Cook set out from Boston in 1774, he did not just set sail for one of the most remote lands on Earth. He headed for the very edge of the New World. Overfishing of whales had been a problem at that point in time. And it was a problem that was to plague the New England colony for years.

overfishing of whales

The overfishing of whales at the North Atlantic led the Yankee whaling men to other, more remote places of the world, such as the extremely cold and harsh Cape Horn. Even after the New England colony had established a permanent settlement, whales were so overfished that many crew men were forced to abandon their whaling efforts. Those who remained found themselves in dire circumstances, after losing almost half of their crew.

One of the reasons whales were overfished in the North Atlantic was because of their vulnerability. They spend most of their time at the edge of the open sea. This means that when ice forms in the ocean around the whales, they are unable to dive down for food. Because the food is so hard to reach, the whales must feed on the blubber or oil gathered near the base of the whale. That’s when the New England whale oil refinery came into being.

In today’s day and age, New England whaling men have turned to another form of whaling. Sperm oil extraction is now big business. But the problem is that the oil, which is used to make whale oil, is also highly toxic to marine animals such as birds and seals. It can poison them, or make their death rates double, if not triple! So even though whales are protected by law in some areas, it has been argued that whaling is still occurring in violation of international law.

So the question is, why does whales help our oceans? Well, whales help by increasing the oxygen content of the deep oceans around them. Because of their large size and the fact that they move at the speed of twelve miles an hour, they help keep the waters around them clear of any organic material that may settle and cause sediment to build up. And they do this by filtering large amounts of water through their blowholes. As they do this, they are removing large quantities of harmful pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, manganese oxide, and carbon dioxide from the waters.

But whales also help us understand ocean acidification. Because they actually add to the acidity of the ocean interior. Acidification of the environment occurs as a result of excessive heat, added organic material, and other chemical reactions. If the quantity of these chemicals is not kept in check, the environment can become severely damaged. Overfishing, improper use of fishing gear, pollution, and storm surges are all responsible for this. If we would stop or reduce the number of these things, the effects of acidification on the environment would be greatly reduced.