Blue Whales are the largest animal known to have existed on the planet. They can weigh more than 180 metric tonnes (almost 400,000 lbs) and grow to 30 m (98 ft) long! They belong to a family of whales known as baleen whales and all of the 15 species in this family have baleen plates, instead of teeth, that allow them to filter food from the water. Blue whales were once common in virtually all of the oceans on the planet, but there population declined rapidly in the 1900’s. Today, their numbers are slowly increasing, but they are still listed as an endangered species. Let’s find out what caused these magnificent creatures to face extinction.
Why are blue whales an endangered species?
Humans began hunting whales (called whaling) in large numbers around the 17th and 18th century. Initially, the blue whale was not targeted by whalers because of their speed, size and power. However, in 1864 whaler Svend Foyn began using harpoons for catching large whales. He was initially unsuccessful, but later created a harpoon gun which was much more successful. This meant that blue whales became a viable commercial target and they were hunted in large numbers. In 1930-31 approximately 29,400 blue whales were caught in Antarctic waters alone. It is estimated that there were 275,000 blue whales before commercial whaling began and in the 1930’s only 30,000-40,000 remained. In the 1940’s restrictions were placed on the number of whales that could be taken each year, but there were no further restrictions banning the catch of rare or endangered species. By 1964 it was estimated that less than 2000 blue whales remained in the wild. Fortunately whaling was outlawed in 1966, but the population of blue whales is still thought to be less than 10,000.
Did you know?
By the time whaling was outlawed it is estimated that 330,000 blue whales had been caught in Antarctic waters!