For a very long time, whales were considered to be an exploitable resource. Historically, communities all around the world killed whales, particularly the larger ones, to obtain products such as oil, meat and baleen.
Only as recently as the 1960’s did humanity start to realise the importance of conserving the Earth’s resources. And even though whale population figures were hard to estimate, it was obvious that certain species had suffered drastic declines due to over exploitation. People and governments recognised that whales needed to be protected or they would become extinct. Conservation measures started to be introduced worldwide. One of the first was a total ban on killing southern humpback whales – introduced in 1963.
In Australia, the whaling industry ended in 1978, and since then, Australia has become a world leader in the protection and conservation of whales, with the Government taking the following initiatives:
Establishment of The Australian Whale Sanctuary - this includes all Commonwealth waters from the three nautical mile state waters limit out to the boundary of the Exclusive Economic Zone.
Within this Sanctuary, it is an offence to kill, injure or interfere with a cetacean. There are severe penalties to those who do not comply with this. All states and territories are responsible for protecting whales and dolphins within their waters.
Recovery Plans - Australia currently has 5 whales species considered to be threatened in its waters, and there are recovery plans for each. The plans identify the threats these whale species face and establish actions to ensure their ongoing recovery.
The 5 threatened species are:
- blue whale (endangered)
- southern right whale (endangered)
- sei whale (vulnerable)
- fin whale (vulnerable)
- and humpback whale (vulnerable).
How you can help whale conservation
Despite being protected, whales and dolphins still face various threats, including water and noise pollution, habitat degradation, collision with ships, entanglements and climate change.
You can do your part in whale conservation by:
- donating money to a worthy conservation organisation
- volunteering to help research projects
- learning a few tips on how to help whales
For more information, the government provides updates on its projects at the Australian Marine Mammal Centre website.