Why Whales Are Starving, Particularly In This Pandemic
A few months ago, I read about what was memorably known as ‘the loneliest creature on earth’ - a whale, of unidentified species, dubbed the 52-hertz whale. The source of its loneliness was its unique singing voice - it sang at a frequency unusually higher than that of other whales which most closely followed its migration patterns. Unable to communicate and find a mate, its unique song has doomed it to a life of loneliness for over 20 years, and this story has since refused to get out of my head.
Of course, one can only wonder at other species of whales and their migrating and mating patterns, and how we might affect them. With the dramatic rise of online shopping and shipping in the pandemic, the demand for maritime trades has grown exponentially. Perhaps one might not think a single brand-new pair of imported Shein jeans might disrupt one of the most important environmental networks in the world, but if you consider that quite a number of the population think with the same sentiment, that accounts for quite a number of jeans, and quite a number more of shipping tanks.
Taking a closer look at the Pacific coast, blue and grey whales most often migrate around this marine area, feeding on krill-rich waters of Alaska during the fall and moving back to warmer waters in Mexico and Hawaii upon the approaching winter. On the US eastern seaboard, strikes with container ships in this area account for 90% of whale deaths, predominantly among grey whales and particularly the endangered, magnificent blue whale (Only 25,000 blue whales exist in the world today and about 200 grey whales in the North Pacific ocean).
In an attempt to decrease vessel collisions with these creatures, rules for ship speeds have been put in place in these areas, but our trading and shipping routes still provide a persistent problem to endangered whale species.
Furthermore, because of the nature of whale feeding - near the surface where they feed on krill on the surfaces of the ocean - these gentle creatures are also often disturbed by container vessels that pass through the area. I mean, if a tank engine were to mosey its way through your home each time you sat down to have lunch, one would eat a whole lot less too.
The continuous motions of ships that pass through these routes also disrupt the prey present for whales to feed on, making access to food more difficult. A domino effect is then created - when prey and other organisms move away unpredictably from congested areas, whales have to move as well in order to stay well-fed (bearing young being a whole different story), and these unpredictable patterns drive whales to travel more and more in order to locate their next food source, for less and less food, making it more and more unlikely for these creatures to breed and replenish oceanic populations.
So, what could we do?
1. Rely Less On International Shipping
Not to say that regular consumers are the largest contributing factor to maritime trading - oil, timber, flour, cement, paint and chemicals are huge components of shipping - but it is certainly a step in the right direction. What would be helpful would be to calculate and keep track of your international purchases, limiting the total number of things you get per month, and slowly decreasing that number as time goes by. Much like the thought analogy of Shein jeans, a collective effort to avoid international shopping and rely more on local businesses would have, if not powerful, but a remarkable effect on the decrease in cargo, which you may guess - will lead to fewer shipping vessels on routes. Yay!
2. Contact Your Local Authorities - Or Donate!
You may contact local authorities to support any new law or legislation that heads towards the use of renewable energy, encouraging less dependency on oil. For donations, “adopt” a whale with Pacific Whale Foundation - when adopting a whale, dolphin, or false killer whale with the PWF, you’ll get to learn about your adopted organism and fund education, research, and conservation programs under the PWF.
Other organisations like Whale and Dolphin Conservation USA and the NOAA West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network also fight to help conserve the habitats and population of these mammals, and they require your help in funding as well.
3. Recycling & Avoiding Polyester
It’s cheesy, but it helps. The U.S. “contributes an estimated 242 million pounds of plastic trash into the ocean every year”, according to the PWF, which causes irredeemable harm to marine life all over the world. Make the switch from single-use plastics to reusable and recyclable bags! Also, did you know that all washing goes into the ocean? Avoiding synthetic fibres like polyester and nylon release microfibers into your drains that are harmful to many marine organisms, especially whales.
Written by Yen Min Ting