Ask and Experts Answer
Q. Are gray whales an endangered species?
A. The gray whale was removed from the endangered species list in
1994. A small number of gray whales are still legally hunted. Grays
hunted to the edge of extinction in the 1850s after the discovery of
the calving lagoons, and hunted again in the early 1900s with the introduction
floating whaling factories. The gray whale was given partial protection
in 1937 and full protection in 1947 by the International Whaling Commission
(IWC). Since that time, the eastern North Pacific gray whale population
has made a remarkable recovery. In 1999 the National Marine Laboratory
reported 26,600 gray whales. Fluctuations are normal but in spring 2010
the counts past ACS/Los Angeles were the lowest in 27 years. Numbers
of babies counted has dropped in recent years too. This
does NOT mean
that the gray whale POPULATION has dropped to an alarmingly low number.
A larger proportion of gray whales may be traveling offshore, beyond
the sighting of people counting them. An unusually large number of extended
wind events made accurate counts impossible too. Scientists are watching
the counts carefully.
Q. Is there just one population of gray whales in the
A. The eastern north Pacific population is the largest surviving population.
At one time there was a north Atlantic population, now extinct, possibly
the victims of over-hunting. A Korean or western north Pacific stock is
now very depleted, also possibly from over-hunting.
Q. What are a gray whales' enemies?
A. Their natural enemies are sharks and
orcas. Their unnatural enemies are ocean pollution, huge fishing nets,
and other human activities that harm their food chain or habitat.
Q. How do humans harm gray whales and their habitat?
A. Humans no longer hunt gray whales in most places. But they may
build resorts and crowd the whalet habitat with tourists and they dump
cruise ships, which all increase ocean pollution.
People may build industries that could
harm whale habitat. (An example is a salt production facility that
was proposed but defeated in the pristine San Ignacio Lagoon.)
Some experts believe that global warming, resulting in part from human
activities, may be harming the gray whale's food chain. The U.S. Navy
has performed low-frequency sonar testing at sea, which can have harmful
effects on whales. Researchers have found
that gray whales exposed to high-intensity active sonar stray from their
migration routes. Beached whales of other species have been found bleeding
around their brains and ears — a tell-tale sign of trauma caused
by exposure to intense sound—after encounters with this deadly
technology. In one U.S. Navy study, blue whales' vocalizations decreased
by half when
exposed to even moderate levels of sonar. Found in oceans worldwide,
endangered giant blue whales congregate in the krill-rich waters of
Channel Islands—right on the gray whale migration route.