Humpback Whale breaching, Megaptera novaeangliae. Maui Hawaii (StevenWSmeltzer.com   (949)290-6367)The Great Whales.  Beautiful, graceful, intelligent, magnificent!! How can you describe these marvelous creatures as they leap high-into the air or perform graceful ballets beneath the waves and on the surface. Great Whales, also known as Rorquals, include: Blue Whales, Gray Whales, Fin Whales, Sperm Whales, Humpback Whales, Right Whales, Bowhead Whales, Bryde’s Whales, Mink Whales, and Sei Whales.   Great Whales hold a unique place in the minds and hearts of people around the world.  They have played and continue to play important roles in many cultures.  Their sheer size captures the imagination of anyone who has been privileged to see or interact with them.  Yet man’s interaction and exploitation of these creatures, especially during the period of commercialized whaling from the late 1700’s to the mid-1950’s  had driven many whale species to the brink of extinction.  However, with the help of the international community and concerned individuals, many of these whales are seeing ongoing patterns of growth.  Yet much still needs to be done to ensure the continued survival of these awesome creatures.

The greatest threats today, to most Great Whale population groups, are vessel strikes and Blue Whale, Balaenoptera musculus, Dana Point, California (Steven W Smeltzer)entanglement in fishing gear and the nations that still hunt whales commercially.   The endangered Fin whales are targeted by Norway and Iceland while,  Japan, under the guise of “scientific research”, uses two whaling fleets to hunt and kill whales in significant numbers including Minke Whales, Bryde’s Whales, Sei Whales and Sperm Whales.  The whale meat is sold by these “scientific expeditions” in the market or is given away to encourage the continued consumption of whale meat.  Other countries such as Canada, Greenland and Indonesia allow native populations to hunt Great Whales, but in a highly restricted number annually.

Atlantic Blue Whales, of which there are approximately 500 individuals, and the Northwest Pacific Gray Whales, of which there are approximately 150 individuals need Gray Whale, Eschrichtius robustus, Eastern North Pacific Gray Whale,Whale Migration (Steven W Smeltzer)substantial support from conservation efforts if they are going to see their populations return to sustainable levels.  The other endangered whale species also need continued intervention or they, too, will become critically endangered and could be lost to us forever. Whether you are a politically conservative or liberal is not the issue for whale conservation.  These mammals are a precious resource to our planet and we must act responsibly to ensure their ongoing viability.

Conservation Status of the Great Whales:

Critically EndangeredEndangeredVulnerableLower risk (conservation dependent)Lower risk (least concern)Data Deficient
Blue whale (Antarctic)Blue whaleBlue whale musculus subspecies - Atlantic populationBlue whale (North Pacific) Bowhead whaleBryde's whale
Gray whale Northwest Pacific populationFin whaleSperm whaleBowhead whaleHumpback whaleAntartic Minke whale
North Pacific right whaleGray whale Northeast Pacific populationGray whale (species)
North Atlantic right whaleSouthern right whaleCommon Minke Whales (stable population)
Sei whale

More information regarding the Great Whales population and conservation effort is available at NOAA Fisheries, the International Whaling Commission, the Animal Diversity Web, and the IUCN websites.