Recovering whale populations is of primary importance for conservationists and scientists alike. The sympathy for the plight of these great creatures has attracted attention world-wide, from both governments and their citizens. But so far, understanding the specifics of how to best go about this includes a lot of guesswork. A recent study of Pacific Northwest killer whales, however, may shed some light on what makes whales happy and thus what will help them to get off the endangered list.
There are many factors that researchers have been looking at concerning whale populations. Pollution, fishing nets and other hazards, human interference in habitats and adequate food supplies are just a few of the major ones. By studying the levels of stress hormones in whales, via examining their droppings, new findings reveal that food appears to be the biggest factor of all of these.
When whales don’t have a steady enough food supply, then all of their other stressors become amplified. If food is plentiful, then even the presence of human beings, such as whale-watchers and fishing boats, doesn’t seem to have much effect on the whales’ stress levels at all. To put it simply, as long as they’re eating right, whales don’t really seem to care too much what else is going on around them
While some may think this as a no-brainer, confirming these findings is a huge step forward in being able to help whale populations return to the levels they once enjoyed before being hunted to endangered status by humans. Conservationists can use this information, as well as data on whale feeding grounds, to ensure that they will have the necessary nutrition to keep their stress levels down. This will result in less deaths as well as increased breeding.
With the particular population studied, their chief food supply is salmon. If the numbers of salmon can be increased, such as through preserving salmon habitat or investing in hatcheries, then the killer whales will prosper. This may not sit well with the fishing industry if they have to cut back their numbers, but increasing the population of salmon so that both fishers and whales get plenty is at least a viable option.
The impact that this study could have on the world’s whale populations remains to be seen, but it is one more crucial step forward in ensuring that these majestic mammals survive so that future generations can enjoy their beauty.