Threats


Whaling
The most widely publicised threat to whales is the whaling industry, still thriving despite a ban on commercial whaling having been introduced in 1986. Three whaling nations have refused to honour the spirit of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) decision and have found ways to continue killing whales for commercial markets.
 
Today Norway and Iceland continue commercial whaling by way of formal Objections to the moratorium. Japan issues scientific permits to its whaling fleets in the North Pacific and the Southern Oceans.
 
It would be enough cause for concern if these were the only dangers faced by whales today, but this is far from being the case. There are other threats. Some kill whales outright, others indirectly, but all have one thing in common; they are caused by humans.
 
 
Entanglement
Every year fishing operations, predominantly various forms of netting, kill hundreds of thousands of cetaceans including many whales. A tragic side-effect of the industry is the insidious "ghost net". These are sections of fishing net that are lost or discarded as a result of bad weather or accidents. Remaining afloat or suspended, and taking years to decay, they sweep through the ocean entangling untold numbers of whales and other marine creatures.
 
 
Noise pollution
Cetaceans have acute hearing, and odontocetes (toothed whales, dolphins and porpoises) possess highly developed sonar abilities.
Increased shipping and boating activities are making the rivers and oceans incredibly noisy. Excess noise can disturb cetaceans, displace them from critical feeding and breeding areas, interfere with social activity, and make them more vulnerable to predators.

Intentionally generated underwater noise, such as that created by seismic exploration activity, is another cause for concern.

There is also mounting evidence that mid- and low-frequency sonar devices operated by the military are potentially fatal to cetaceans.
This is not basic navigation sonar, but more powerful, sophisticated systems used to detect submarines and other objects over great distances.
 

At best, exposure to such devices can distress and displace some cetaceans. At worst they might cause severe injury or death. There have been a significant number of strandings whose timings and locations have coincided with navy sonar activity of this type, and even the IWC Scientific Committee has expressed concern about the potential for harm to whales.
 
 
Marine debris
Vast quantities of our rubbish enter the ocean every year. Much of it is discarded directly into rivers and the sea. A significant amount also finds its way from the land via drainage systems.
 
Some can be easily mistaken by cetaceans for food, and even large whales have been found to have died as a result of swallowing indigestible plastic bags. Cetaceans can also choke on, or become entangled, in a variety of waste material.
 
 
Climate Change
Climate change and global warming modeling predicts profound physical, chemical and biological impacts in the ocean including increasing water temperature, changes in ocean circulation and nutrient upwelling, elevated seawater acidity, decreasing polar ice coverage and consequential impacts on the food chain.
 


The ice edge is important feeding habitat for species such as killer whales


There are concerns for marine life on a global scale. These include migratory whales returning to the polar waters and needing to find abundant food resources quickly. Current models suggest that Antarctic foraging areas are likely to become far less productive and more widely separated.
 
No simple answers
Many whale species and populations are now showing signs of recovery, but it should be kept in mind that most are still far short of their pre-exploitation numbers. In addition, they are now facing threats that did not confront them in the past. We must consider and manage the cumulative effect of all these pressures, rather than address each in isolation.
 


AWCS

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cetacean

conservation,

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