The Eastern North Pacific Gray has been touted as one of the success stories in US whale conservation history. Since the turn of the 21st century, Gray Whales has suffered many critical setbacks including a massive population collapse during 1999/2001 in which almost half the population died of starvation. Questionable government methodologies and lack of adequate monitoring programs are putting the Gray Whale population at risk.
Here are some of the major threats:-
- Climate change.
- Oil and gas exploration and leases in Bering and Chukchi Sea feeding grounds.
- Noise from seismic operations.
- Military and non military sonar.
- 13 Liquified Natural Gas terminals planned along migration route.
- Bottom trawling.
- Pollution causing increased numbers of “stinky whales”.
- Wave Energy projects.
- Orca Predation causing mortality rates of up to 30% in some years.
- Lack of substitute prey. Gray Whales are specialist feeders, their principal prey (amphipod macrocephela) requires very cold water to survive.
- Changes in water column.
- Lack of regular and proper population monitoring.
- Collapsing calf count as evidenced in 2007 when the lowest mid calf count in 30 years in 2007 was recorded.
- IWC quota of 140 Gray Whales per year which is, based on current population analysis, unsustainable.
- Gray whales are the target species for an Aboriginal Revised Management Scheme being developed by the International Whaling Commision, (IWC). What this means is that the IWC Scientific Committee will soon set quotas for more Gray Whales to be killed by indigenous tribes based on deeply flawed and incorrect population estimates provided by the US Government. The Makah tribe are seeking a waiver under the US Marine Mammal Protection Act to allow the tribe to kill Gray Whales.
- Failure of the Federal Government to provide adequate monitoring programs since delisting the species in 1994.
The California Gray Whale Coalition believes that the future survival of the Eastern North Pacific Gray Whale is on the line. Resolutions demanding that the US provide proper protection for the Gray Whale by relisting the species under the US Endangered Species Act need to go before the Mexican Congress and the Canadian Parliament.