Effects of humans interfering in nature exemplified by the living conditions of whales

Pre-University Paper, 2018

34 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of contents

1 Introduction

2 Effects of humans interfering in nature exemplified by the living conditions of whales
2.1 Overfishing
2.2 The danger of contamination of whales’ living environment through toxic materials and plastic rubbish
2.2.1 Plastic pollution
2.2.2 Oil pollution
2.2.3 Chemical pollution
2.2.4 Sewage pollution
2.2.5 Radioactive pollution
2.3 Subaqueous noise
2.4 Changes in behaviour in whales held in captivity

3 Measures taken to protect whales
3.1 Intensification of regulations relating to whaling
3.2 Active help as an individual
3.3 What whale protection organisations do based on the example of WDC – Whale and Dolphin Conservation

4 Conclusion

5 Bibliography

6 Table of figures


Our deserts are changing, our forests are changing, our oceans are changing, our environment is changing – our world is changing. And we are the major contributing factor. The human impact on the environment has risen to an immense level over the last few decades. Through our behaviour and daily actions, we cause global warming, the destruction of ecosystems around the world, pollution, deforestation and mass extinction. Human activities are forcing whales to leave their natural habitats and to face threats every single day. Therefore, I have chosen to focus my paper on the topic “Effects of humans interfering in nature exemplified by the living conditions of whales”. The following chapters will deal with the dangers that whales face in the modern world – overfishing, contamination and pollution of the seas, noise influence and the threat of being caught and held captive in a marine park for example. Furthermore, this work will examine the importance of supporting the protection and preservation of the marine environment and the whales living in it through intensifying whale hunting regulations and through individual and collective efforts.

The results I obtained throughout my research sadly confirmed my suspicions: We have reached the point of no return. Several different marine species have already vanished from our planet because of human interference in their environment. Although many organisations have tried, and are still desperately trying, to save the marine environment they have, unfortunately, failed repeatedly. Immediate action is essential! This affects us all. Earth is the only planet we have.

1 Introduction

“There's enough on this planet for everyone's needs but not for everyone's greed.” –Mahatma Gandhi. This is a quote that accompanied me throughout my research and writing during which the cruel truth that lies behind it became clear.

When I chose to dedicate my work to this subject – one that is of great importance to me – the following questions presented themselves as most relevant: What are the main reasons for whales being threatened to the point of extinction? How severely does pollution, and the current problem of plastic rubbish, that is spreading to an unimaginable level, endanger whales? What impact does captivity have on the behaviour of whales? And what can we do to end whale hunting and the cruelty that these animals must face daily?

Every day we hear about environmental issues on the news, we read about animal species becoming extinct, we see photographs of Greenpeace activists and so on and so forth. However, we cannot allow ourselves to become desensitised through all the media coverage. The marine environment, our oceans, its inhabitants, including whales, are important for the preservation of our all lives. Without life in our seas we would not be able to survive.

Since this topic has always been an issue of great importance to me I had no difficulty finding suitable data through (mostly) non-governmental websites. Moreover, to obtain further information on what each and every individual can actively do to help save the whales, and to find out what specific organisations do in their efforts to protect marine mammals, I conducted an information exchange via email with Jane Wheeler, a member of Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC). Furthermore, my research into this topic enabled me to better understand the vital importance of whale conservation. Writing this paper offers me a way to pass on to others what I learned during my research and to perhaps convince people of the necessity to protect our marine environment and its inhabitants.

The aim of this paper is, on the one hand, to show how modern-day human behaviour is affecting the lives of many other species on planet earth – especially in our oceans. On the other hand, I intend to affirm that we can still reduce the dangers faced by marine mammals and, even with the smallest of efforts, everyone can contribute to the rescue of whales. My goal, furthermore, was to attain more personal knowledge on the topic of saving our planet and on saving whales living in our oceans, in particular. In this aspect I succeeded to my full satisfaction.

I divided my work into two main subjects: Firstly, how humans affect nature using the example of whales and, secondly, measures previously and currently taken to protect whales. I subdivided the first chapter into the following areas: threats caused by overfishing, contamination and pollution, subaqueous noise and changes in behaviour in whales held in captivity. The second chapter has been structured into three sections: intensification of regulations relating to whaling, measures that every individual can undertake to support organisations working towards the rescue of the marine environment and, finally, what these organisations actually do to help.

2 Effects of humans interfering in nature exemplified by the living conditions of whales

For decades now, it has been obvious that everyday human activities have been resulting in pollution, global warming, deforestation, overpopulation, excessive waste production, mutations of animals and plants and many other environmental problems. Human interference in nature causes severe dangers and threats to animals and plants all over the planet. We humans are even harming ourselves. This chapter aims to inform about the various ways humans change the living conditions of whales by interfering in nature.

2.1 Overfishing

The ocean has always been, and still is, the largest food source on planet earth and its fish makes up the main daily source of protein for 1.2 billion people worldwide. But in the last 60 years stocks have decreased by about 90% and scientists claim that the collapse of the oceans’ entire fish population could occur in less than 50 years (cf. youtube.com #ending-overfishing TC 0:16-0:50). The reason for this is overfishing: “Overfishing occurs when more fish are caught than the population can replace through natural reproduction”, as defined by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) (worldwildlife.org #threats #overfishing). Capturing, processing and selling as many fish as possible may sound like a highly profitable business, but overfishing is a topic which should not be treated lightly, especially nowadays where fish stocks of several kinds are declining drastically. Overfishing is threatening the survival of marine mammals in two ways. Firstly, there is the danger of them becoming trapped in the nets as bycatch and, secondly, whales and other ocean-living mammals are facing a massive decrease in their food supply.

The beginnings of overfishing date back to the early 1800s when some species of fish, such as the Atlantic cod and herring and Californian sardines were caught almost to the point of extinction by around 1900. In the mid-20th century the demand for food rich in protein was incredibly high and governments made a huge effort to expand the fishing industry. Very soon consumers became accustomed to having easy access to a wide variety of fish species at very moderate prices. The fishing industry reached its climax in 1989 when approximately 90 million tons of haul were documented to have been caught only during this one year (cf. nationalgeographic.com #environment #oceans #overfishing).

One of the causes of this problem lies in “open access fisheries”, i.e. areas in which the right to catch fish is free and open to all. This results in extreme overfishing and low profits for the fishermen. There are almost no property rights in the open sea and, such being the case, traceability of fishing activities is highly complex. But still there is no doubt that the main reason for overfishing is lack of control and government regulations. This makes it tremendously difficult for customs agencies and retailers to keep control of which fish are being imported into their country and, thus, they cannot guarantee that fish being sold have been legally and sustainably captured. Illegal fishing represents about 20% of the world’s catches and can reach almost 50% in certain individual fisheries. This criminal act costs up to $23.5 billion annually. Moreover, fishing fleets are far larger than those required to catch the permitted amount of fish. The quantity of haul that has been gathered over the past centuries would cover an area comparable to four times that of the earth (cf. overfishing.org). Not only the constantly decreasing amount of fish in the ocean affects the living conditions of whales, as most species rely on fish as their main source of food, but also the increased shipping industry through fishing fleets is harming these marine mammals in a very dangerous way (as explained in chapter 2.3). A Toothed whales’ diet (killer whale), as an example, consists of mostly squid, crabs and numerous species of fish. Through bycatch (elaborated later) not only too many fish are caught but also other oceanic creatures like these squid and crabs are to be overfished.

Some methods of catching fish are extremely counterproductive and severely harm marine ecosystems. The fishing industry is continuing to advance its hunting methods: its vessels are being adapted to go further, stay longer and catch more haul. Some ships are specially equipped to process and package the fish, with enormous freezing machines and powerful engines enabling them to carry the massive amounts of draught and equipment. They are, basically, giant “floating factories”. Super-sized trawling vessels with lengths of up to 144 metres are big enough to hold more than 7,000 tons of fish. However, most of the haul is bycatch, i.e. fish that accidentally get caught inside the nets. Shrimp trawlers throw 80-90% of aforesaid bycatch back into the sea. This means that for 1kg of shrimps up to 9kg of other marine creatures accidentally caught are wasted. But not only do the affected fish populations – and therefore also the whole balance of the marine ecosystem – suffer because of these modern-day methods. Billions of lives of people who live in coastal areas all over the world, East Africa for example, and who depend on fish for their survival are also affected. These populations who rely on the available source fish suffer mainly from a lack of protein. For hundreds of years people believed that our seas would provide us with a limitless quantity of (sea)food. Modern fishing practices and increased demand over the last 50 years are causing the extinction of several species and we are slowly but surely heading to a point of no return, as various fish stocks important for daily trade – such as the Atlantic bluefin tuna – are under threat of vanishing completely (95% have already disappeared), while other smaller species – such as sardines and anchovies – are in danger of becoming too abundant. The World Wildlife Fund claims that “More than 85%of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits and are in need of strict management plans to restore them.” (worldwildlife.org #threats #overfishing).

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Figure 1 : Biodiversity 1

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“A new study conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that 5 out of the 8 tuna species are at risk of extinction. All three species of bluefin tuna, for example, are threatened with extinction and are at a population that makes their recovery practically irreversible.” (eschooltoday.com #overfishing #impacts)

Almost 65% of worldwide fish populations today are said to be overfished and about 80% of all top predators are rapidly vanishing from the North Pacific and North Atlantic. European eels have almost completely disappeared from all oceans; salmon has left several rivers alongside the Atlantic and is now one of many threatened species, likewise sharks and rays. This could become a severe problem for killer whales in near future as they also rely on sharks as a part of their daily diet. The fact that 40,000 jobs were lost due to the disappearance of only one overfished cod stock in Canada in 1992 offers evidence of only one of several possible consequences of overfishing. And now, because the industry has led to depletion of fish in former hunting areas and fishermen are losing their labour, fishing fleets are seeking new untouched waters (cf. greenpeace.org #what-we-do #oceans #fit-for-future #overfishing).

Another reason for the vast depletion of a huge number of fish stocks is “ghost fishing”. This occurs when vessels lose their nets, something that quite commonly happens during a stay of several weeks or months. These nets do not only trap and kill fish but also some smaller whales like the sperm or beluga whale. They take numerous decades to degrade and the devastation they cause should not be overlooked (cf. eschooltoday.com #overfishing #impacts).

2.2 The danger of contamination of whales’ living environment through toxic materials and plastic rubbish

In the oceans various kinds of pollution are to be found, such as rubbish, oil, chemicals and sewage. However, fact is that marine pollution is mainly caused by land-based activities. In the last decades our waters have had to bear the brunt of diverse, mostly serious, pollution accidents and although they are becoming less common because of improved modern technologies, there is still an unimaginable amount to learn about the damaging consequences of marine pollution (cf. ypte.org.uk #sea-pollution).

2.2.1 Plastic pollution

“Nearly all the plastic items in our lives begin as little manufactured pellets of raw plastic resin, which are known in the industry as nurdles. More than 100 billion kilograms of them are shipped around the world every year, delivered to processing plants and then heated up, treated with other chemicals, stretched and moulded into our familiar products, containers and packaging. During their loadings and unloadings, however, nurdles have a knack for spilling and escaping. They float wonderfully and can now be found in every ocean in the world, hence their new nickname: mermaid’s tears.” (telegraph.co.uk #drowning-plastic)

Approximately 6 million tons of rubbish enter the sea every year. Almost everything we dispose of incorrectly finds its way into the ocean. Since plastic rubbish often gets mistaken for food by marine mammals, countless inhabitants have been found choked to death through plastic bags and six-pack rings blocking breathing passages. This problem affects several marine species such as whales, dolphins, seals, puffins and turtles. Sperm whales are known to eat 100 million of tons of seafood each year, but nowadays their diet contains our waste too. The rubbish the marine animals consume takes up a lot of space which means that they lack important nutrients they should be taking in instead. In addition, some plastic items with sharp edges can slice open animals’ throats and internal organs and large pieces may get stuck in breathing passages or digestive tracts.

Microplastics are found in nearly every single area of sea water around the whole world. These particles are so tiny they are not even visible to the naked eye and they mainly enter the ocean through our washing machines. The three main fabric particles found were polyester, acrylic and nylon. These substances can be found in almost every piece of clothing and scientists have discovered that only one garment can release up to 1,900 of these microplastic particles per wash. Recent tests reveal that there are more microplastic particles in the water than plankton. Trillions of plastic items can be gathered into massive, swirling rubbish patches by rotating ocean currents, known as gyres, and then travel millions of kilometres just below the water surface. A “trash vortex” is the name given to such monstrous, swimming rubbish patches, one of which in the North Pacific is around the size of the state of Texas.

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Figure 2: Great Pacific Garbage Patch 2

Another patch was discovered in the Atlantic Ocean in 2010. The problem with plastic is that it never completely disappears from our seas. It does get smaller as the sunlight splits it up into tiny pieces over a long period of time through photodegradation, but this process allows toxic chemicals to spread in the oceans yet again (cf. ypte.org.uk #sea-pollution #plastic-pollution).

2.2.2 Oil pollution

Oil spills are generally thought to be a huge catastrophe for the marine environment, but in fact they are responsible for only 12% of overall oil damage. Far more important is the industrial contribution which represents 36% of oil entering the seas through the same drains and rivers as chemicals do. Since the consistency of oil is very sticky, thick and slimy it can cause devastating damage to the marine eco system (cf. wwf.panda.org #oceans #problems #pollution).

The biggest disaster caused by an oil spill was the so-called “Deepwater Horizon oil spill” that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 where approximately 4 million barrels of oil leaked into the ocean and destroyed 4,000 miles of coastline. It is much harder to clear sandy beaches from the spilt oil than rocky cliffs and birds, especially, tend to get themselves completely covered in the sticky oil, making flying and swimming utterly impossible. Furthermore, marine mammals often swallow the slimy substance when trying to escape the mass on the surface and breathing passages get blocked, or internal organs are damaged which usually ends up in an excruciating death as crude oil includes over 1,000 chemicals of which some are extremely toxic. In warm waters the chemicals don’t take as long to evaporate as in cold waters – here the light hydrocarbons on the water surface are often eliminated with fire (cf. ypte.org.uk #sea-pollution #oil-pollution). The website of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) contains the following statement: “We've learned from past experience with the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill that killer whales and other marine mammals don’t avoid oiled areas on their own and exposure to oil likely can affect their populations.” (response.restoration.noaa.gov #keep-killer-whales-away-oil-spill).


1 eschooltoday.com #overfishing #impacts

2 marinedebris.noaa.gov #garbage-patch

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Effects of humans interfering in nature exemplified by the living conditions of whales
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Jana Robertson (Author), 2018, Effects of humans interfering in nature exemplified by the living conditions of whales, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/446272


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