Thursday, 12 March 2015

World’s whaling slaughter tallied

Commercial hunting wiped out almost three million animals last century.
11 March 2015

The first global estimate of the number of whales killed by industrial harvesting last century reveals that nearly 3 million cetaceans were wiped out in what may have been the largest cull of any animal — in terms of total biomass — in human history.

The devastation wrought on whales by twentieth-century hunting is well documented. By some estimates, sperm whales have been driven down to one-third of their pre-whaling population, and blue whales have been depleted by up to 90%. Although some populations, such as minke whales, have largely recovered, others — including the North Atlantic right whale and the Antarctic blue whale — now hover on the brink of extinction.

But researchers had hesitated to put a number on the global scale of the slaughter. That was largely because they did not trust some of the information in the databases of the International Whaling Commission, the body that compiles countries’ catches and that manages whaling and whale conservation, says Robert Rocha, director of science at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts.

Rocha, together with fellow researchers Phillip Clapham and Yulia Ivashchenko of the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle, Washington, has now done the maths, in a paper published last week in Marine Fisheries Review (R. C. Rocha Jr, P. J. Clapham and Y. V. Ivashchenko Mar. Fish. Rev. 76, 37–48; 2014). “When we started adding it all up, it was astonishing,” Rocha says.

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