© Susan Bird, Fin Whale Calf Taken in Azores
ICELAND CEASES WHALING
Iceland has already killed the lowest number of whales among the whaling countries, which include Japan and Norway. Since resuming whaling in 2003 after a 14-year pause, the island nation has killed 1,505 whales. Recent announcements by Iceland's two whaling companies suggest that the annual hunt is ending
Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, managing director of the minke whaling company IP-Utgerd, said on April 24, 2020, “I’m never going to hunt whales again, I’m stopping for good.” On the same day, Kristján Loftsson, CEO of Hvalur, told the Icelandic newspaper Morgunbladid that his ships would not be setting out to sea this summer.
One reason, Loftsson said, was the social distancing restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which would make crewing vessels and processing whales impractical. But Hvalur’s ships also stayed in port in 2019, and Loftsson acknowledged that there were other issues.
Iceland has elected not to keep this dying industry going any longer. This decision is in keeping with the nation’s PM, Katrin Jakobsdottir, and her mostly pro-environment position. In Japan, the consumption of whale meat has dropped from 203,000 tons in 1965 to less than 4,000 today.
Today, Iceland's focus is on whale watching.
WHO IS SINGING THAT SONG?
In a study published in the journal Endangered Species Research recently, scientists analyzed underwater recordings from the Arabian Sea, extending from the coast of Oman as far south as Madagascar. The team of researchers came across an unfamiliar kind of whale song that had never before been documented, sparking an international effort to discover the new singer.
A year later, the team brought their findings to a meeting of the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission. Here, other scientists said they had come across the whale song in recordings from the central Indian Ocean. The scientists joined forces to analyze their discovery. As they studied the unique song, it became clear that it was being sung by a previously unknown group of blue whales. As they amassed data, they discovered that the new population likely spends most of its time in the northwestern Indian Ocean. “It was quite remarkable to find a whale song in your data that was completely unique, never before reported, and recognize it as a blue whale,” said Salvatore Cerchio, director of the African Aquatic Conservation Fund’s Cetacean Program and study co-author.
The exciting discovery is promising for blue whales. They have been pushed to the brink of extinction and are currently listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In the 1800s and into the 1900s, the commercial whaling industry nearly wiped them out. Thanks to environmental protections, blue whale populations have been increasing around the world in the past half-century, but the species still faces global threats.
These threats are due to climate change causing habitat loss from warming ocean temperatures.
In addition, they run the risk of being killed from ship strikes, net entanglement, and ingesting
plastic and marine debris which clog the opening of their stomach causing starvation.
In light of the discovery that there are even more blue whales out in the oceans than scientists previously thought, the study's authors say world leaders should redouble their efforts to protect the species by imposing stricter regulations on shipping and curbing carbon emissions.