California Blue Whales Show Big Rebound

Population returns to 'sustainable levels'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 5, 2014 1:44 PM CDT
Calif. Blue Whales Back in Business
A blue whale dives off the coast of Long Beach, Calif., on July 20, 2014.   (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

After decades of deadly whaling, the California blue whale population has come back with a vengeance. A study in the Marine Mammal Science journal says that the once-endangered mammal, which can be found from Alaska all the way down to Costa Rica, has bounced back to "sustainable levels," with around 2,200 of the creatures now swimming in the Pacific surf right off the West Coast, reports the BBC. That growth spurt is due to meticulous conservation efforts—but also because the Russians aren't harpooning enormous numbers of them anymore. An estimated 346,000 California blue whales were harpooned before the practice was banned in 1966; between 1905 and 1971, about 3,400 were killed in the Pacific, mostly by Russian whalers.

Despite the ban, Russians kept at it illegally until 1971—and as soon as they stopped, "the population has been recovering steadily," a University of Washington researcher tells NBC News via email. One major issue that still plagues blue whales: They keep getting smashed by ships, especially near California. Some groups estimate about 11 are hit each year, although scientists believe there would have to be an "elevenfold increase in vessels" before there's even a chance of the blue-whale population dipping to dangerously low levels. Meanwhile, they remain the largest animals on Earth, notes National Geographic. (Sorry, Dreadnoughtus.) Read how many calories a blue whale consumes in one gulp. (More California blue whales stories.)

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