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Whales and Dolphins Face Many Threats

Commercial Whaling is responsible for hunting nearly every large species of whale to the brink of extinction. The Great Whales were once exploited for the oil contained within their blubber. Today, cetaceans large and small are hunted to mass produce meat for human consumption.
Despite international efforts to halt commercial whaling, Iceland, Norway, and Japan continue to slaughter whales on an industrial scale.

Research Whaling is annually conducted by Japan's government, abusing a loophole in the ICRW intended for scientific study, as legal justification to defy an international moratorium on commercial whaling.
Japan's research programs are often condemned as a thinly disguised commercial whaling operation. With over 12,000 whales slaughtered for 'research' since 1986, the International Court of Justice agreed in a 2014 ruling against Japan.

Bycatch Whaling is the incidental take of cetaceans entangled in fishing nets or hooked on lines designed to catch other species. Overall, bycatch from commercial fishing results hundreds of thousands of cetaceans killed globally every year.
In Japan and South Korea, whales caught in this manner can be legally processed for sale which encourages unregulated commercial whaling.

Small Type Whaling is essentially commercial whaling that concentrates on smaller whales and dolphins. In Japan up to 20,000 small cetaceans are killed annually including rare beaked whales and a massive Dall's porpoise hunt.
Porpoises and dolphins are often killed with hand harpoons from coastal fishing boats. Although some beaked whales can grow to be larger than minke whales, these and other small cetaceans are not protected by the IWC.

Drive Hunting or dolphin drives result in the deaths of thousands of small cetaceans annually. A number of small boats will herd entire pods of dolphins using stones or banging metal rods in the water to frighten and confuse the animals. Nets are deployed to trap the dolphins in shallow water where they are slaughtered with gaffs or knives.
Taiji (Japan) and the Faroe Islands (Denmark) are the primary locations for dolphin drives.

Poaching, in a broad sense, could refer to many types of whaling. However, in some cases where national laws forbid the slaughter of cetaceans fishermen ignore the laws and continue to kill protected animals for various reasons.
In some cases dolphins are killed to use their meat as bait for catching other profitable fish or sharks. Pelagic industrial scale poaching of cetaceans is sometimes called 'pirate whaling'.

Aboriginal Whaling, or subsistence whaling, describes native communities that continue to hunt whales for food security and to preserve 'cultural traditions'.
Native villages in the USA (Alaska), Canada (Nunavut), Greenland, and Russia are permitted to hunt whales for subsistence. Only a few whalers remain in Bequia (the Grenadines). Lamalera (Indonesia) also has an active whaling community using open boats and hand harpoons.

Ship Strikes are a common problem for vessels and cetaceans (large and small) that often end in the death or serious injury of whales and dolphins. In many cases, large shipping vessels do not notice (or report) a collision but smaller craft, such as recreational boats, may incur significant damage and injuries to passengers.
Efforts to reduce the number of collisions include altered shipping lanes and mandatory speed limits.

Anthropogenic Noise is caused by shipping, seismic surveying, military sonar, explosions, and other industrial activity. This man-made noise pollution can interfere with cetacean abilities to communicate, navigate, breed, and forage.
Added stress from the effects of this noise can weaken immune systems. Military sonar has been linked to ear hemorrhages in cetaceans as well as mass stranding.

Marine Pollution is a significant threat, of which eighty percent comes from land, including runoff from urban centers, agricultural and industrial activity, and more. Air pollution also settles on soil and water. Toxic chemicals and metals accumulate in the food chain and in cetaceans.
Debris can entangle or be eaten by cetaceans causing cuts, suffocation, starvation, infections and more. As this debris degrades more toxins are released.

Climate Change impacts are most severe in the Arctic and Antarctic. As average temperatures rise the habitat many whales rely on is rapidly changing.
Reduction in annual ice and increases in rainfall affects ocean salinity and prey species. Acidification of the oceans, due to increased carbon dioxide absorption, also affects prey and can make cetaceans more vulnerable to disease and reduce reproductive success.

Over Fishing is destroying the food web in the oceans. Excess exploitation of prey species at the base of the food web will result in malnutrition and disruptions in migration and breeding at higher trophic levels.
Aquaculture is an economic motivation for over fishing prey species as feed to produce larger farmed fish. Many other wild species (like blue fin tuna) are also being depleted and nearing commercial extinction.

Disease is a natural threat to any population of cetaceans. However, human activity enables the introduction of new diseases and harms cetacean immune systems, making them more vulnerable to illness.
For example, studies following an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico found significant increases of illness among dolphin populations years later. A house cat parasite has been found infecting Beluga whale populations in the Arctic.

Water Development Projects, like dams and structures to divert water for irrigation, can significantly degrade river habitat. The loss of suitable habitat is compounded by pollution, entanglement, ship strikes, and other threats.
Dams have significantly contributed to the decline of river dolphin species from India to China, and in parts of South America. The Yangtze river dolphin (or Baiji) was declared by scientists to be functionally extinct in 2006.

IWPO uses some copyrighted visual content under legal provisions for 'fair use'.
The International Whale Protection Organization is a non-profit association against the exploitation of whales and dolphins.