How to save the whales
As teachers, I believe it is our mission to not just do a 'How to save the whales' unit of work, but to gently nurture a generation of ocean stewards who will make a positive impact on our planet's well-being. I hope this overview of problems, solutions and tech descriptions is helpful in providing useful information to enable colleagues to embark on 'save the whales' learning projects which can engage children and provide opportunities for active experiences. It is the children's passion and ideas which will hopefully make a huge difference to the future of whales. Let's ignite their curiosity, foster empathy, and inspire action – all in the pursuit of preserving the oceans and the incredible whales that call them home.
So what is the problem?
Whales face numerous challenges worldwide that put their populations at risk and make it difficult for them to survive. Some of the key issues threatening whales include:
- Commercial Whaling: Despite international bans on commercial whaling, some countries continue to hunt whales for their meat and other products. This illegal and unregulated whaling can have severe impacts on whale populations, especially those that are already endangered.
- Bycatch: Whales often get entangled in fishing gear, such as nets and lines, meant for other species. This accidental capture, known as bycatch, leads to injuries and death for many whales each year.
- Habitat Loss and Degradation: Human activities, such as coastal development, pollution, and industrialization, can lead to the degradation of whale habitats. Changes in their environment can disrupt their feeding, breeding, and migration patterns, making it challenging for them to find suitable areas for survival.
- Noise Pollution: Underwater noise pollution from shipping, oil and gas exploration, and military activities can disturb and disorient whales, affecting their communication, navigation, and hunting abilities.
- Climate Change: Rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification due to climate change can disrupt the distribution and availability of whale prey species, affecting the whales' ability to find food.
- Pollution: Chemical pollutants, plastic debris, and oil spills can contaminate the marine environment, leading to health issues for whales and other marine life.
- Collision with Ships: Large vessels can collide with whales, causing injuries and fatalities, particularly for species that inhabit busy shipping lanes.
- Reduced Prey Availability: Overfishing and depletion of fish stocks impact the food sources of certain whale species, leading to malnutrition and population declines.
- Entanglement in Marine Debris: Whales can become entangled in marine debris, such as fishing gear, ropes, and plastic, which can restrict their movement and cause severe injuries.
- Disease and Health Issues: Whales can be susceptible to diseases and health problems caused by environmental factors, pollution exposure, or compromised immune systems.
- Ship Strikes: Collisions with ships, especially in areas with heavy maritime traffic, pose a significant threat to whale populations.
- Whale Tourism and Disturbance: While responsible whale watching can contribute to conservation efforts, irresponsible tourism practices, such as getting too close to whales or disturbing them, can stress the animals and disrupt their natural behaviors.
Addressing these issues requires concerted global efforts, such as enforcing regulations against whaling and illegal fishing, creating marine protected areas, reducing plastic pollution, and adopting sustainable fishing practices. Conservation organizations, governments, and individuals play a crucial role in safeguarding whale populations and their habitats to ensure their survival for future generations.
Solutions: successful strategies for protecting whales
Several strategies and initiatives have been successful in protecting whales around the world. These efforts involve a combination of conservation measures, international agreements, public awareness campaigns, and technological advancements. Here are some 'How to save the whales' organisations and processes that have been working successfully to protect whales:
- International Whaling Moratorium: The establishment of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and the implementation of the moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986 have significantly reduced the number of whales killed for commercial purposes.
- Marine Protected Areas (MPAs): The creation of marine sanctuaries and protected areas in critical whale habitats has provided safe spaces for whales to breed, feed, and migrate without disturbance from human activities.
- Reduced Bycatch: By developing and implementing more whale-friendly fishing gear and techniques, the accidental entanglement of whales in fishing gear (bycatch) has been reduced in some regions.
- Public Awareness and Education: Outreach campaigns and educational programs have raised public awareness about the importance of whale conservation and the threats they face. This increased awareness has led to greater public support for whale protection efforts.
- Whale Watching Regulations: Implementing responsible whale watching guidelines and regulations helps minimize disturbance to whales and their habitats, promoting sustainable eco-tourism while protecting the animals.
- Monitoring and Research: Ongoing research and monitoring of whale populations and their behaviors provide valuable data for conservation efforts, allowing for informed decision-making and targeted protection measures.
- Technology for Conservation: Advancements in technology, such as satellite tracking and acoustic monitoring, enable scientists to better understand whale movements, migration patterns, and behavior, helping identify and address threats more effectively.
- Reduced Ocean Noise: Some shipping companies have voluntarily slowed down or altered shipping routes to reduce underwater noise, which benefits whales by minimizing disruption to their communication and navigation.
- Collaborative Efforts: International collaborations between governments, NGOs, scientists, and local communities have proven effective in implementing conservation initiatives across borders and different jurisdictions.
- Sustainable Fisheries Management: Implementing sustainable fishing practices helps maintain healthy fish populations, ensuring an adequate food supply for whales and reducing competition with human fishing activities.
- Legislation and Policy: The development and enforcement of legislation and policies at national and international levels have helped protect whales and their habitats.
- Success Stories: Some whale species, such as the humpback whale and gray whale, have shown population recoveries in certain regions following conservation efforts, demonstrating the positive impact of protective measures.
Despite these successes, challenges remain, and continuous efforts are needed to address emerging threats and ensure the long-term survival of whales. The collective commitment of governments, organizations, communities, and individuals worldwide is crucial to protect and conserve these magnificent marine creatures for generations to come.
How does whale-protection technology work?
Technology plays a crucial role when considering how to save the whales by providing valuable data, enhancing conservation strategies, and mitigating human impacts on whale populations. Here are some ways in which technology contributes to whale conservation:
- Satellite Tracking: Scientists attach satellite tags to whales, allowing them to track the animals' movements in real-time. This data helps identify migration routes, feeding grounds, and breeding areas, aiding in the establishment of marine protected areas and the understanding of whale behavior.
- Acoustic Monitoring: Underwater acoustic monitoring systems help researchers study whale vocalizations and communication. By analyzing whale calls, scientists can estimate population sizes, monitor behavior, and detect changes in distribution.
- Drones and Aerial Surveys: Drones and aircraft equipped with high-resolution cameras enable researchers to conduct aerial surveys of whale populations. These surveys provide accurate population estimates and assess changes in whale distribution and health. This provides invaluable information to inform decisions about how to save the whales.
- Genetic Analysis: DNA analysis helps identify individual whales and assess genetic diversity within populations. Understanding genetic data assists in tracking family groups, identifying migration patterns, and monitoring the overall health of whale populations.
- Underwater Gliders: Autonomous underwater gliders equipped with sensors collect data on ocean conditions, such as temperature and salinity, which are critical for understanding how environmental changes impact whale habitats and food sources.
- Bycatch Mitigation Devices: Technological advancements have led to the development of bycatch mitigation devices, such as pingers and weak links, which reduce the accidental entanglement of whales in fishing gear.
- Ocean Noise Monitoring: Specialized buoys and hydrophones are used to monitor underwater noise levels. By understanding noise pollution in marine environments, scientists can identify areas of concern and take steps to reduce disturbances to whales caused by human activities.
- Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science: Mobile apps and online platforms allow the public to contribute to whale research by reporting whale sightings and sharing photographs. This data assists scientists in tracking whale movements and behavior over broader geographic areas.
- Social Media and Education: Social media platforms help raise public awareness about whale conservation and the threats they face. Engaging and educational content shared through social media contributes to fostering a global conservation mindset.
- Virtual Reality and Interactive Tools: Virtual reality experiences and interactive tools help connect people to the underwater world of whales, enhancing empathy and understanding of these creatures, and inspiring conservation efforts.
By harnessing the power of technology, scientists, conservationists, and policymakers can make more informed decisions and develop targeted strategies, showing us how to protect the whales and their habitats effectively. Technology continues to evolve, and its integration into whale conservation efforts holds promise for further advancements in safeguarding these magnificent marine mammals.
How to track whales in real time
These websites provide the opportunity to track whales in real (or nearly real) time. This can be exciting for children who may learn about the whale routes and then make predictions about where they think the whale will go next. Whales travel incredible distances and this can be surprising for the children. Some apps or programmes show the different markings of the whales and have names for the whales, enabling the children to get a sense of closeness to the whales as they track them. Also, analysing the grids of information on ships - those that use the apps and slow down to avoid the whales and those that don't is interesting. Discussions could be had around why some ships do look out for the whales and why others don't.
- Happywhale: Happywhale allows you to follow the journeys of individual whales by matching your whale sighting photos with their extensive database of known whales.
- WhaleNet: WhaleNet provides real-time tracking of tagged whales, including humpback whales, as they migrate along the eastern coast of the United States.
- MarineBio Real-Time Whale Tracking: MarineBio collaborates with researchers and organizations worldwide to provide real-time tracking data for various whale species.
- Ocean Alliance - Real-Time Tracking: Ocean Alliance conducts research on whales, and their website provides real-time tracking of tagged whales like humpbacks and blue whales.
- Oregon State University - Whale Tracking Maps: The Oregon State University's Marine Mammal Institute offers real-time tracking maps for various whale species, including gray whales and blue whales.
- Monterey Bay Aquarium - Tagging of Pelagic Predators (TOPP): The Monterey Bay Aquarium's TOPP program tracks the movements of tagged marine predators, including whales, along the California coast.
- Cascadia Research Collective: Cascadia Research Collective's website provides tracking data for tagged whales, including humpback and killer whales in the Pacific Northwest.
Useful links and organisations
- Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC): A leading global charity dedicated to the protection of whales and dolphins, WDC offers comprehensive information on conservation efforts, threats, and ways to get involved.
- Greenpeace: Known for its environmental campaigns, Greenpeace advocates for whale conservation and provides information on anti-whaling efforts and related issues.
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): NOAA's Fisheries division offers resources and educational materials on whale conservation, research, and protection in the United States.
- International Whaling Commission (IWC): The IWC is the global body responsible for the conservation of whales and the management of whaling. Their website offers information on regulations and initiatives related to whale protection.
- Sea Shepherd Conservation Society: Sea Shepherd conducts direct-action campaigns to protect marine life, including whales, and their website provides updates on their activities and how to support their efforts.
- MarineBio: This website offers comprehensive information on marine conservation and how to save the whales, including sections dedicated to whale species and their conservation status.
- World Wildlife Fund (WWF): WWF's marine conservation section covers a range of issues, including the protection of whales, and provides resources and ways to take action.
- Ocean Conservancy: Focused on ocean protection, Ocean Conservancy's website provides information on how to save the whales and how individuals can make a difference.
- WhaleTimes, Inc.: An educational organization, WhaleTimes offers resources for teachers and students to learn about whales and their conservation.
- Cetacean Society International (CSI): CSI's website provides information on whale conservation, research, and efforts to protect marine mammal species.
- The Marine Mammal Center: Focused on rescuing and rehabilitating marine mammals, including whales, this organization's website offers valuable insights into marine conservation.
- Oceana: Oceana's marine conservation efforts include protecting marine habitats and preventing harm to whales. Their website offers resources and information on advocacy.
- The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS): WDCS's website offers information on whale and dolphin conservation efforts, research, and advocacy.
- Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS): Focused on ocean conservation in Australia, AMCS's website includes resources on whale protection and marine biodiversity.
- Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS): MICS conducts research on whales in Canada and offers valuable information on their website about whale species and conservation.
How to save the whales: children's websites
- National Geographic Kids - Whales: This child-oriented section of National Geographic Kids offers interactive features, fun facts, videos, and articles about whales and their conservation.
- Smithsonian Ocean: Whales: The Smithsonian's educational website provides informative articles, videos, and interactive features to teach children about whales and marine conservation. This website has an excellent video on Whale Evolution
- ARKive Kids - Whales and Dolphins: ARKive Kids offers a collection of multimedia resources, including images, videos, and fact sheets about whales and dolphins.
- Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) Kids: WDC's kid-friendly section features games, quizzes, and resources to educate children about whales and what they can do to help protect them.
- MarineBio Kids - Whales: MarineBio Kids provides educational materials, activities, and facts about marine life, including whales, in a kid-friendly format.
- Oceana Kids: Oceana's kid-focused website offers educational content on marine life, including information about whales and the importance of ocean conservation.
- Defenders of Wildlife - Kids' Planet: Defenders of Wildlife's Kids' Planet offers fun activities, facts, and games about wildlife, including sections dedicated to marine mammals like whales.
- WhaleTimes, Inc.: WhaleTimes is an educational organization that offers resources for teachers and children to learn about how to save the whales through interactive materials.
- NOAA Fisheries - Kids' Pages: NOAA Fisheries' Kids' Pages provide informative resources about marine life, including whales, with fun facts, games, and coloring pages.
- Marine Mammal Center - Kids' Page: The Marine Mammal Center's Kids' Page offers educational materials and activities about marine mammals, including how to save the whales.