Whales play an important role in regulating ocean ecosystems. When whales dive deep in the ocean, they stir up nutrients from the depths below. This action promotes better nutrient circulation, and supports phytoplankton at the surface of the water – a major food source for many fish and crustaceans. Whales also produce huge amounts of nutrient-rich feces that plants and phytoplankton use to grow, which in turn absorb carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere and contribute to around 50% of the world’s oxygen!
Cetacea (whales, dolphins and porpoises), Eubalaena glacialis (North Atlantic right whale), Megaptera novaeangliae (humpback whale) are a few of the over 90 species of Cetaceans.
Depending on the species, population statuses range from "Least Concern" to "Critically Endangered" (IUCN Red List)
Where do whales live?
Whales inhabit all oceans of the world, from temperate oceans and the tropical waters around the equator to the polar waters of the Arctic and Antarctic oceans. Whales are also found in many seas, such as the North Sea and the Mediterranean.
Types of whale:
Toothed and Baleen
Today, whales face numerous threats. Ocean noise pollution from activities like offshore drilling, ship traffic, and sonar for fishing or military purposes creates a maze of sound that disorients whales. Overwhelmed by such sounds, whales struggle to communicate with one another, hunt, and locate mates. Ocean noise causes immense physical stress for whales and in some cases, leads to death. Commercial whaling, ship strikes, plastic pollution, environmental changes due to climate change, and entanglement in fishing gear continue to threaten the well-being of whales around the world.
How many whales are left?
Many whale populations were driven to the brink of extinction during the industrial whaling era of the 19th century, including North Atlantic right whales and sperm whales, during which time almost 3 million whales were killed. Today, some populations, such as the blue whale which was depleted by about 90%, are still struggling to recover from this extreme period of hunting. Some whale species and populations are starting to show signs of recovery, but whales are long-lived and slow breeding, and face myriad threats throughout the world’s oceans today.
IFAW works to protect whales all around the world. One of our largest missions is to raise awareness of ocean noise pollution and support policy that lessens this deadly threat. Produced by NRDC and Imaginary Forces in association with IFAW, our Emmy award-winning documentary "Sonic Sea" explores the dangers of ocean noise pollution and helps the public understand ways we can all turn down the volume.
In the United States and Canada, our team is working to save the North Atlantic right whale from extinction. Entanglement in fishing gear and ship strikes have pushed this species to the brink of extinction. With fewer than 360 individuals left, it’s a race against the clock to save this magnificent species. IFAW works with governments to advance the SAVE Act, a piece of legislation that would provide additional funding for right whale research and protections. Our team is also working with technology companies to support whale-safe fishing gear that would help prevent entanglements.
Just as the North Atlantic right whale is threatened by ship strikes, where whales are struck and either severely injured or killed by vessels, many other whale populations around the world are at risk from this threat. Unfortunately, anywhere that whales and ships/boats overlap, there is a risk of ship strike, but some whale populations in certain locations are more vulnerable than others. From blue whales off Sri Lanka, sperm whales in Greece, to Bryde’s whales in New Zealand, IFAW works in these ship strike "hotspots," to find solutions to reduce whale deaths. Sometimes this may mean moving shipping lanes away from critical whale habitat, or slowing ships down to reduce risk – we work to ensure new approaches and solutions are adopted to improve protections for whales from deadly ship strikes.
Through our “Meet Us, Don’t Eat Us” campaign in Iceland, we’re helping to promote sustainable whale watching over whale meat consumption. Much of the demand for whale meat comes from tourism, as whale meat is often advertised to tourists as a traditional Icelandic food. We’ve been helping to spread awareness among tourists and support whale watching as a sustainable alternative to commercial whaling. Through decades of work in Iceland, commercial whaling in Iceland may soon be over, finally putting an end to the needless killing of fin whales and minke whales in this beautiful country.
How can you help save the whales?
With support from our local teams and partners, IFAW has been able to move the needle, saving the lives of whales across the globe – but there is still so much more we have to do. By making a 100% tax-deductible donation, you can ensure our conservation programs and projects continue to protect whales and habitats around the world.
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