Blue whales are one of the few animals still in existence that is larger than the dinosaurs. A typical blue whale will measure up to 100 feet in length and weigh over 180 metric tons. It’s easy then to understand how this colossal mammal that once ruled the oceans is now closer and closer to extinction. Even though blue whales are now protected by the international community, their numbers have dwindled down to just a few thousand. Unfortunately, at our current rate of advancement, humanity can do very little for these animals, as recent reports can’t even agree on the number of whales in existence, having widely differing estimates on how many blue whales are still left in the world today.
The blue whale and its uniquely enormous body is a product of many millions of years of evolution. Researchers have discovered in 2011 that it took more than 5 million generations of whales to increase their body mass 5,000 times to the size they are known by today. Before blue whales began being hunted down at the start of the 20th century, there were an estimated number of more than 200,000 whales present in the Antarctic, where their largest population density was situated. Today, groups numbering as little as 2,000 whales remain in various, isolated areas throughout the North Pacific, Indian Ocean and Antarctic regions.
Early whalers in the 1800s preferred to target right and sperm whales, due to their smaller size and lower speed. Blue whales were notoriously difficult to hunt, so their numbers were at a natural high at the end of the 19th century. However, with the development of faster steam ships and special harpoons designed for larger whales, the hunting of blue whales took advent from the 1880s to the mid-20th century. It is estimated that about 300,000 whales were killed in this period, either for their supply of oil, or various body parts. At one point, 29,000 whales were hunted down in a single season, leading to the diminishing of the population. Today, experts estimate there are only about 10,000 to 25,000 individual whales left on Earth.
1986 was the year when the international community sought to put an end to mass commercial whaling, recognizing that the hunting practices were leading to the endangering of species like the blue whale. It is then that the International Whaling Commission adopted a moratorium that rendered all commercial whaling activities illegal in the countries that accepted the agreement. However, recovery is slow for the blue whale populations left throughout the world’s oceans, and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List still features them as endangered.