Over the centuries, whales have been killed for many reasons. Although the practice of whaling has largely been stopped, certain countries still participate in illicit whaling.
In fact, although the hunting of whales is considered as illegal in most countries, there are still some companies that look for legal loopholes to continue hunting these marine mammals. Due to this, many of the whale species have become endangered, causing some countries to become concerned about the population of whales. While many individuals, organizations and countries have been protesting the killing of whales it remains a constant battle to get those countries and whaling industries do not believe that they are doing anything wrong to stop and this battle will more likely continue for years to come. Aside from the profit and industry-based whaling efforts, there are several other reasons why whales are being killed: chemical pollution, noise pollution, getting trapped in fishing nets by accident, collisions with ships and even global warming. Lastly, a small percentage of whales continues to be hunted to be able to maintain a cultural heritage and this is considered as legal. Small indigenous groups that have strong cultural ties with their ancestors continue to hunt whales as a source of food or to continue the culture their ancestors created just because this practice of hunting whales is considered as cultural and not a profit-based practice. Therefore, many countries allow these small groups of people to continue practicing their cultural beliefs without much interference.
Importance of sharks in the marine ecosystem
As apex predators, sharks play a key role in the ecosystem by maintaining the species below them in the food chain and serving as an indicator for ocean health. They help remove the weak and the sick as well as keeping the balance with competitors helping to ensure species diversity. As predators, they shift their prey’s spatial habitat, which alters the feeding strategy and diets of other species. Through the spatial controls and abundance, sharks indirectly maintain the seagrass and corals reef habitats. The loss of sharks has led to the decline in coral reefs, seagrass beds and the loss of commercial fisheries. By taking sharks out of the coral reef ecosystem, the larger predatory fish, such as groupers, increase in abundance and feed on the herbivores. With less herbivores, macroalgae expands and coral can no longer compete, shifting the ecosystem to one of algae dominance, affecting the survival of the reef system. Oceana released a report in July 2008, “Predators as Prey: Why Healthy Oceans Need Sharks”, illustrating our need to protect sharks.
The most endangered marine mammals in the world
The vaquita is a rare species of porpoise endemic to the northern part of the Gulf of California. Since the baiji (Lipotes vexillifer) is thought to have gone extinct in 2006, the vaquita has taken on the title of the most endangered cetacean in the world. It has been listed as critically endangered since 1996. The population was estimated at 600 in 1997, below 100 in 2014, approximately 60 in 2015 and approximately 30 in November 2016, leading to the conclusion that the species will soon be extinct unless drastic action is taken. The population decrease is largely attributed to bycatch from the illegal gillnet fishery for the totoaba, a similarly sized endemic drum that is also critically endangered. The population decline has occurred despite an investment of tens of millions of dollars by the Mexican government in efforts to eliminate the bycatch. A partial gillnet ban was put in place for two years in May 2015; its scheduled expiration at the end of May 2017 spurred a campaign to have it extended and strengthened. On 7 June 2017, an agreement was announced by Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto to make the gillnet ban permanent and strengthen enforcement. As well as the Mexican government and various environmental organizations, this effort will now also involve the foundations of Mexican businessman Carlos Slim and American actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio. A protective housing/captive breeding program, unprecedented for a marine mammal, has been developed and is undergoing feasibility testing, being now viewed as necessary to rescue the species. However, the sea pen housing needed to implement this strategy is not expected to be available until October 2017, which is feared may be too late. Additionally, the ability of the vaquita to survive and reproduce while confined to a sanctuary is uncertain. The Mexican government approved the plan on 3 April 2017, with commencement projected to begin in October 2017. In November 2017, the attempt to capture wild vaquitas for captive breeding and safekeeping was suspended following the death of a female vaquita. The adult female died within hours of being captured. In December 2017, Mexico, the United States and China agreed to take further steps to prevent trade in totoaba bladders.