Since the first sailors ever set eyes on a blue whale this marine mammal became the main character of all kinds of folk tales, stories, and mythological legends making it out to be both, a savior and a bearer of doom.
Unfortunately, due to fear and the value of its fat, this beautiful creature became an exceptionally valued target that drove it to the brink of extinction leaving its population severely fragmented.
Today I will take you on a dive to the depths of blue whale conservation while I answer the question: Are blue whales endangered?
The short answer is yes. Blue whales are endangered. Still, there’s no reason to get sad yet as their population’s increasing, and the blue whale could be just in time to make a splashing comeback.
Today you will learn what precisely is meant by “ENDANGERED”, the status of the blue whale subspecies, how many are left, the current threats they face, and what you and I can do to help these magnificent creatures recover.
Let’s dive right in!
Why Are Blue Whales Considered Endangered?
With a whopping weight of around 200 tons and a length that equals that of 3 large school buses in a line the blue whale is not only the largest animal alive today, it is the largest animal to ever exist on earth.
As I told you earlier, its breathtaking size has made humans throughout time feel magnetically drawn to the blue whale machinating all kinds of different stories in which this enchanting creature has been the evil monster as much as the holy creature.
What is known today is that this gentle giant is far from evil and due to its elusive nature there is still a lot to learn about the colossal cetacean.
Regarding its conservation status, the blue whale is categorized as “endangered” by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
A species considered “endangered” is one that faces a very high risk of extinction.
This can happen due to several reasons such as a population decline of more than 50% over a decade (or 3 generations), a species having 250 individuals or less, or other factors.
The reason the blue whale is classified as endangered is the fast population decline it faced during the commercial whaling years. It is estimated that whalers killed around 99% of the blue whale population from the year 1900 until the mid-1960s.
How Many Blue Whales Are Left?
The current blue whale population is estimated to be between 10,000 to 25,000 individuals. This includes mature individuals and offspring, who tend to have a higher mortality rate.
If you were to count only adults then the population is estimated to be 10.000 – 15.000.
Considering the blue whale population pre-whaling was around 350.000 individuals, these current population numbers are still incredibly low but fortunately, the population trend this species is showing is “increasing”.
The IUCN estimates the blue whale population is currently increasing at a rate of 5% per year.
This approximate is attained by evaluating various studies and records of all known blue whale populations and you can find it in detail by clicking here:
Some specific blue whale populations are even increasing at an estimated rate of 7% per year according to the IWC (International Whaling Commission) and you can review that information in more detail here:
Blue Whale Threats
Because of their absolutely titanic size predatory attacks on blue whales are extremely rare, and although, like all animals, they may sometimes succumb to illness, aging in whales is very slow and these cetaceans show little to no signs of the ailments of old age.
All current threats to blue whale populations are related to human actions and activities and can be reduced to 4 major threats:
This is the most common cause of blue whale mortality, especially around coastal areas with heavier traffic (eg. cruise ships).
Entanglement in fishing gear
Due to the large size of the blue whale, this cause of death is not as common as with other whale species but studies performed on deceased individuals have shown scars consistent with fishing gear entanglement.
This affects prey distribution which can then place nutritional stress on the blue whales.
Ocean noise and pollution
These particular causes are still not very well understood but are believed to play a very important role in the whale’s reproductive cycle and travel patterns.
How Can We Help Save Blue Whales?
There are 4 important ways you and I can help the great blue giants that swim our oceans:
Keep a safe distance
The blue whale is very rare to witness in its natural habitat but if you’re ever granted the gift of witnessing such a special moment remember to always be respectful and keep the recommended distance to prevent disturbing the whale.
Always report a blue whale in distress
If you ever witness a blue whale that’s entangled in fishing gear, appears sick or distressed, or is stranded do not try to approach it as it could make matters worse.
Always contact professionals to provide the help it needs.
Reduce your speed
If you are out on a boat in an area known to have marine mammals or happen to see one where you are, make sure the speed is no more than 10 knots to prevent strikes.
Report a violation
If you happen to witness or know about an instance of hurting, harassing, or disturbing a blue whale in any way always report it!
If you are in the US you can report it to NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964. For the rest of the world refer to IWC for reference.
In a nutshell, blue whales are endangered and highly vulnerable to becoming extinct.
Thanks to many rules, laws, and initiatives set in place to protect them their population is slowly increasing but the most minor change could send the beloved giant into oblivion.
What you and I can do to prevent this from happening is to follow the recommendations from professionals when it comes to encounters with these marine mammals and support organizations working towards the conservation of these beautiful animals in any way possible.
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I am a lover of everything nature and animal related with over 15 years of experience in the field of wildlife rescue and education. Currently living in Colombia working with wild and domestic animals and spending all my free time writing about them 🙂