Contributing Monkie Jennifer Buonantony
Published on September 20, 2009
We’ve heard all about the annual Japanese dolphin slaughter. We have even seen NBC Hero’s Star Hayden Panettiere’s attempts to stop (or at least draw attention to) it. With all the media attention that was on Hayden and the dolphins these past couple years, what we still haven’t heard much about is the annual Japanese whale slaughter or about the whales themselves.
Which is a shame, because whales are fascinating creatures.
The humpback whale is a baleen whale which is usually between 40-50 feet in length and weighs an average of almost 80,000 pounds. The humpback has a distinct body shape with long pectoral fins and a knobbly head and is known for its acrobatic ability often breaching and slapping the water. Male humpbacks are also known for their amazing “songs” or sounds they produce, which is believed to play a crucial role in communication and mating.
Humbacks come in four different colors schemes ranging from white to gray to black to mottled. They also have distinctive patches of white on the underside of their flukes (tail), which are unique to the individual like a fingerprint is to a human. Humpbacks are known for having two blowholes and for sticking their tales out of the water and slapping them against the surface (known as “lobtailing”).
The species usually travel in pods (small communities) and migrate about 25,000 kilometers each year, feeding only in the summer in polar waters, and heading to tropical or sub-tropical waters in the winter to give birth.
Although whales have been hunted for centuries for the commercial value of their meat, whaling has been internationally protected since the early 1960s. It is estimated that during the 20th century, at least 200,000 Humpbacks were taken due to whaling, reducing the global population by an estimated 90% before a 1966 whaling moratorium was introduced by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
However, as we’ve seen, Japanese whalers are still refusing to honor this agreement with the Japanese Fisheries Agency claiming that whale populations have rebounded.
Humpbacks, which are still listed as vulnerable by the World Conservation Union, face other threats from humans besides whaling which include entanglement in fishing gear, collisions with ships, and noise pollution.
While it’s impossible to monitor and protect every member of a species, upholding the whaling ban is definitely a fight that humpback whales and other endangered species around the globe can’t afford to lose.