On December 1, 2015, the journal Marine Mammal Science published an article entitled Status of the World’s Baleen Whales. This review was funded by the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission. Its abstract reads as follows:
“No global synthesis of the status of baleen whales has been published since the 2008 IUCN Red List assessments. Many populations remain at low numbers from historical commercial whaling, which had ceased for all but a few by 1989. Fishing gear entanglement and ship strikes are the most severe current threats. The acute and long-term effects of anthropogenic noise and the cumulative effects of multiple stressors are of concern but poorly understood. The looming consequences of climate change and ocean acidification remain difficult to characterize. North Atlantic and North Pacific right whales are among the species listed as Endangered. Southern right, bowhead, and gray whales have been assessed as Least Concern but some subpopulations of these species – western North Pacific gray whales, Chile-Peru right whales, and Svalbard/Barents Sea and Sea of Okhotsk bowhead whales – remain at low levels and are either Endangered or Critically Endangered. Eastern North Pacific blue whales have reportedly recovered, but Antarctic blue whales remain at about 1% of pre-exploitation levels. Small isolated subspecies or subpopulations, such as northern Indian Ocean blue whales, Arabian Sea humpback whales, and Mediterranean Sea fin whales are threatened while most subpopulations of sei, Bryde’s, and Omura’s whales are inadequately monitored and difficult to assess.”
Several recent research studies (see other articles and links on this CRE site) show that many whales die from ingesting naturally occurring algae that produce a strong neurotoxin called domoic acid. When concentrations of the algae Pseudo-nitzschia are high, the more young whales die; and conversely, when the algae densities drop, so do the number of deaths. The US Marine Mammal Commission appears to downplay natural causes such as these, and instead elevate the potential impact of anthropogenic sound, thereby promoting a biased view of threats to large whales. The MMC is wrong when it states “the acute effects of anthropogenic noise are poorly understood”. On the contrary, peer-reviewed published science over the past two decades alone has provided us with a good understanding of the impact of anthropogenic sounds on marine mammals. With this arsenal of science findings, NOAA Fisheries, the agency charged by the US Congress to administer the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and which is the US authority on the science behind these matters, stated in a 2012 public filing regarding seismic surveys, “To date, there is no evidence that injury, death or stranding by marine mammals can occur from exposure to air-gun pulses, even in the case of large air-gun arrays”. Furthermore, the US National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council stated: “No scientific studies have conclusively demonstrated a link between exposure to sound and adverse effects on a marine mammal populations”.