Whale Conservation: Are Gray Whales Endangered?

are gray whales endangered

The gray whale is one of the most interesting species of whale that lives on planet earth.

They are incredible mothers to their young and make one of the longest migrations of any animal.

Sadly, these beautiful whales were hunted to near extinction by commercial whaling in the 1950s, but due to their resilience and important legislation, they have made an incredible rebound.

In this post, we’re going to answer a question we see many of our readers asking: Are gray whales endangered?

The short answer to this is no, they are not. They have a population status of “Least Concern” which means the population is stable.

Woohoo! Let’s take a closer look…

Are Gray Whales Still Endangered?

Gray whales were hunted to near extinction in the mid-1800s and then again in the 1950s due to commercial fishing.

This reduced numbers drastically and meant gray whales were put on the endangered species list.

Many years ago there were four populations of gray whales, two in the Atlantic and two in the Pacific.

However, sadly both of the Atlantic populations are gone and are now extinct. Thankfully we still have eastern and western pacific populations of gray whales.

After it became illegal to hunt these magnificent whales, the population made an impressive rebound where numbers climbed to around 27,000 in 2016.

The eastern North Pacific population is now thriving, with whale numbers increasing every year.

Largely due to the fact that they are protected by international conservation measures as well as the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the United States.

Today, gray whales are no longer endangered and were de-listed from the endangered species list in 1994.

Although the whales still suffer from the same dangers that many marine animals suffer from, such as pollution, entanglement, and climate change, their numbers are stable.

Gray whales now have a conservation status of “Least Concern”, which means the numbers are stable and not at risk of extinction or becoming endangered.

When Did Gray Whales First Become Endangered?

Commercial fishing was the main reason why gray whales first became endangered in the 1950s.

These whales resided close to the shoreline which meant it was they were easily accessible to fishermen. Their blubber was used in producing oil for lamps, and they were overfished immensely.

So much so that whalers even used “floating factories” to process the whale out at sea.

The saddest reason their population was almost wiped out is that they were targeted in their nursing lagoons.

Whalers would go into the lagoons and kill pregnant mothers, and the nursing mothers and this resulted in calves dying too.

Gray whales got the nickname “devilfish” as they would defend their young so fearlessly that they would sometimes attack vessels.

When whales would harpoon their young, the adult whales would furiously attack the ships and oftentimes destroyed a lot of the smaller whaling boats.

This gave gray whales a false narrative of being aggressive when this couldn’t be further from the truth.

In the lagoons of Baja, Mexico where the gray whales breed, they are so friendly that they often come right up to humans and seek attention from people.

Are Gray Whales Hunted Today?

Gray whales are not hunted today. They are protected by international organizations and several government agencies.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was established in 1946 to regulate whaling throughout the world’s oceans.

Gray whales received protection from the IWC in 1947.

This was a huge step for many species of whales and helped bounce back the population of gray whales in the US.

In the United States, gray whales are further protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act as well as the Endangered Species Act.

As well as this, Mexico transformed some of Baja California’s major breeding and nursing lagoons into a protected refuge zone.

All of this legislation and protection has allowed the gray whale to make an astonishing rebound since the 1950s.

Combined with the fact that they are intelligent survivors that eat from a variety of food sources, the gray whale populations are now stronger than ever.

Final Thoughts

Are gray whales endangered? No, not anymore. They were officially taken off the endangered species list in 1994.

Gray whale numbers are growing each year, and although they still face many of the threats that haunt our oceans, they are doing incredibly well.

That said, limited whaling is still practiced by indigenous people in Alaska, Canada, and Mexico, and there have also been reports of illegal whaling by nations that do not accept IWC treaties.

Unfortunately, gray whales in the western pacific which are vulnerable to whalers from Japan and Russia are not doing so well, with a total population of under 100 whales.

Hopefully, this post has been informative and you’ve learned something new today about the incredible gray whales.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post, and if you have enjoyed it feel free to share this post with others.