Subject: Threats to whales

Tori (cullins@hawaii.edu)
Sun, 18 May 1997 14:54:21 -1000

Dear Elizabeth,

Aloha! Good questions! As you may know the right whale is THE most
endangered whale. Their common name "right" whale, comes from the fact
that they were so easy to catch, whalers deemed them the right whale to
hunt. Most countries have stopped whaling now, although a few still do.
Some openly and under permit, some openly and without permits and some
totally on the sly. As recently as this week, it was reported that Hong
Kong restaurants serve whale meat, smuggled in illegally from Japan. This
meat would be from whales considered endangered or threatened, as are most
of the great whales (I believe only the grey whale has been removed from
the endangered species list).
However I would not consider whaling to be the biggest problems. Whales on
the East Coast of the U.S. have had tremendous problems with entanglement
in fishing gear. As you have learned, ship collisions are also high on the
East Coast. High amounts of shipping traffic may also hamper some whales
feeding methods.
Feeding on food containing contaminants may harm whales. They are long
lived animals with a lot of fat (blubber). If toxins are stored in the
fat, it seems that high levels may accumulate over the whales life span
and even be passed on by nursing mothers.
These problems are not limited to whales on the East Coast by any means,
of course. In my opinion, I would have to say that the biggest problem
faced by whales and most other endangered species is over-population by
humans and the problems that are attached. These would include habitat
change (for the whales the increase of water users, pollution, land runoff
- some whales are said to avoid plumes of dirty water, noise - coastal
construction, blasting etc.) and destruction. You and your class mates
can probably add to this list.
I think the best way to help is to be informed. There are many newsgroups
on the internet that could keep you up to date on the latest scientific
research. MARMAM, about marine mammals is one of favorites. Keep abreast
on what is happening in your legislature, support the bills in favor of
endangered species and cleaning up the world, and oppose those that don't.
This could be tricky, look to your local conservation groups such as the
Sierra Club or Audobon Society for guidance. Support the National Marine
Sanctuary's, currently the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine
Sanctuary is under the gun and needs help. Write to Gov. Ben Cayetano and
ask him to support the Hawaiian Islands Sanctuary at gov@aloha.net. 
Thanks for this opportunity to get on the soapbox about something that
hits so close to home for me. I hope this helps to put you on the right
track. Feel free to contact me anytime, you have my address!

Tori