Meet the largest animals on Earth! From their mouths full of baleen to their enormous sizes, learn the facts about these impressive Mystecetes.
The International Whaling Commission (IWC)
In 1946, 14 countries signed the International Whaling Convention for the regulation of whaling, forming the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The goal of the IWC is to manage whale stocks as a resource.
The IWC monitors whale populations through scientific advisory groups and coordinates and funds a variety of whale research.
In 1986, the IWC declared a moratorium on commercial whaling. The moratorium - which is still in effect - allows for the possibility of regulated commercial whaling in the future.
The IWC continues to develop its "Revised Management Procedure," which would ultimately set safe catch limits for certain whale stocks where the numbers are deemed plentiful. The plan sets limits on the species, numbers and size of whales which may be taken; and prescribes open and closed seasons and areas for whaling. It also requires observation, reporting, and data gathering.
At times various nations threaten to ignore the IWC recommendations and resume whaling. In fact, since the moratorium has been in effect, hundreds of baleen whales (mostly minke whales) have been killed commercially "under objection" by the IWC. The IWC has no means by which to enforce regulations.
IUCN/The World Conservation Union
IUCN/The World Conservation Union is a worldwide conservation organization. This organization links together government agencies, non-government agencies, and independent states to encourage a worldwide approach to conservation.
Legal Protection For Baleen Whales
The U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972 made it illegal to hunt or harass marine mammals in the U.S.
The primary objective of the MMPA is to maintain the health and stability of the marine ecosystem and to obtain and maintain an optimum sustainable population of marine mammals.
According to the MMPA, all whales in U.S. waters (baleen and toothed) are under the jurisdiction of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The MMPA does allow for certain exceptions: native subsistence hunting; taking marine mammals for research, education, and public display; and taking restricted numbers of marine mammals incidentally in the course of fishing operations.
Six species of baleen whales are listed for protection under the United States Endangered Species Act of 1983: the blue, bowhead, fin, humpback, right, and sei whales.
The primary reason for their endangerment is overhunting during the years of commercial whaling.
The eastern Pacific gray whale population was removed from the Endangered Species List in 1993 because it seems to have reached pre-whaling numbers (about 26,000 whales in 1998).
The Convention in International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) is an international treaty developed in 1973 to regulate trade in certain wildlife species. All species of baleen whales are listed under CITES Appendix I, the most endangered of CITES-listed animals and plants. CITES prohibits commercial international trade in specimens of Appendix I species.
Whale watching expeditions bring people close to wild whales and help people learn about them.
NOAA has developed "Marine wildlife viewing guidelines" to protect marine animals. Among other recommendations, the guidelines instruct whale watchers to keep their distance. Chasing or harassing animals, impeding their right of way, touch and feeding animals are not allowed.
Baleen Whales In Zoological Environments
Baleen whales are not commonly displayed in zoological environments. In general, their size, their diet and feeding habits, and their endangered status make them poor candidates for public display.
SeaWorld parks have rescued some stranded baleen whales, including gray whales, minke whales, and a Bryde's whale. Some of these rescued whales did not survive, while others were successfully rehabilitated and released.
In 1988, SeaWorld of California assisted and freed three California gray whales that had become entangled in drift nets.
In 1989, SeaWorld of Florida rescued a 2,270 kg (5,000 lb.) Bryde's whale stranded on a Florida beach. After six weeks of treatment and round-the-clock care, the whale was successfully released back into the ocean.
In 1997, SeaWorld of California rescued and rehabilitated an orphaned gray whale calf that stranded in Southern California. After 15 months of care, the whale was returned to the sea.Stranded animals are a valuable scientific resource. Insight gained from caring for rescued whales adds to the growing body of knowledge that helps us to care for cetaceans and to better understand cetacean biology.