Fin whales may not be the most popular or well-known whale species but it doesn’t mean this giant of the seas isn’t just as amazing as other, more popular, cetaceans.
Individuals of this species inhabit all of our oceans but prefer the open, offshore waters and are therefore harder to spot.
And when I say giant I mean it, as with its weight of 80 tons and measuring around 27 m / 89 feet the fin whale is the second largest whale there is!
If that doesn’t impress you let me tell you that this whale is also the second-largest animal to ever inhabit our planet!
Now let’s get into the question you have today: are fin whales endangered? In short, no. However, this doesn’t mean that this magnificent animal is off the hook as it is listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
Follow me on this article while I let you know exactly what this “vulnerable” term means, why this beautiful behemoth is at risk of extinction, how many individuals are left today, and what the current threats faced by the fin whale are.
Are Fin Whales Currently Endangered?
So you already know that fin whales are not currently endangered and their official conservation status is “vulnerable”, now let’s dig into what exactly this entails.
What having a “vulnerable” status means is that this species is facing a high risk of extinction in the wild and is very likely to become endangered unless current threats to its survival and reproduction improve.
Luckily for the fin whales, and for ocean lovers like you and me, the population of this marine mammal is currently increasing at a rate of 2.4 to 8.4% each year.
It may not seem like much but it’s enough to give hope to scientists and whale lovers around the world.
When Did Fin Whales Become Endangered?
Like many other whales, fin whales became endangered during the industrial whaling era.
The exact number of these whales before whaling began is hard to calculate because of their dispersal in deep, open oceans.
What is certain is that around 725,000 fin whales were killed in the southern hemisphere alone and their overall population was reduced to just 1 or 2% of what it used to be.
The merciless hunt for these gentle giants didn’t begin until the mid-1950s, a lot later than other whale species.
Hunting fin whales only became possible when modernized hunting methods became available as these whales are not only massive, and more elusive than other species, but they’re also very fast.
Fin whales have more streamlined bodies and sharper heads than other rorquals which makes them more hydrodynamic allowing them to swim at faster speeds.
It wasn’t until steamboats appeared on the scene that whalers had a standing chance at catching a fin whale.
This whale species is also the most social one often living in groups of around 7 individuals.
This was very unfortunate for the fin whale during the whaling craze as it was easier for whalers to kill several individuals when they came across a pod.
When it comes to officially “endangered”, as the term coined by the IUCN, the fin whale was listed as such from 1996 until 2018 when it was officially moved to “vulnerable”.
The reasoning for the change of status is the belief that at this point the whale’s population had recovered to over 30% of the (population) level of 3 generations ago.
How Many Fin Whales Are Left In the World?
It is estimated that there are currently around 85,000 fin whales.
However, according to the IWC (International Whaling Commission), not all areas that are part of this whale’s range have been surveyed. For example, there is no data available for the Southern hemisphere population.
Also, as I told you before, due to the preference of this whale for the deep, open ocean and its evasive nature, accurate numbers are not always easy to obtain and most are largely based on estimates.
Such is the case for the North Pacific population which is believed to be at 10,000 individuals at the moment with an annual increase of 4 – 5%.
Fin Whale Threats
Vessel strikes are not only the leading cause of death of fin whales, this species is actually the most affected by it!
Studies have shown that as much as a third of all fin whale strandings show evidence of vessel strike.
This risk is particularly high among the Mediterranean population which is, sadly, the most vulnerable at the moment due to the heavy amount of traffic in this area.
The exposure to high levels of underwater noise created by vessels also poses a great threat to these whales.
As with most marine life, fin whales are prone to get tangled in fishing gear, although because of their large size, it is a not-so-common cause of death.
Climate change is another growing threat, especially for populations in the Mediterranean and in the Gulf of California, as it affects prey availability.
There is a growing concern about the build-up of microplastics and other pollutants as it is impossible for these filter-feeders to not consume them, but the full extent of the damage they will create is still unknown.
Another threat is whaling. Even though commercial whaling is technically over, fin whales are still being hunted by some human populations under assigned quotas.
Additionally, there are still a few countries that engage in commercial whaling to a smaller extent than before.
And lastly, the only threat to fin whales that is not directly related to humans, is orcas.
It’s not possible for a killer whale to subdue the second largest animal there is; calves, however, are a different story. It’s rare but not impossible for pods of orcas to kill a fin whale calf.
As you can see there is still hope for this majestic creature but it will take many years for its population to return to pre-whaling numbers.
It will also take a change of mind and heart from people across the globe as mankind needs to be mindful of how every action affects our environment.
Thank you for joining me on this underwater adventure today and I will see you next time!
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 🙂