Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
Whales are at no risk of extinction. When 50,000-strong species are classified as ‘endangered,’ words don’t mean what we think they do.
In his recent book, Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, Michael Shellenberger declares: “Not a single whale species is at risk of extinction.”
That was true enough when his book was being written. But in January 2020, the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared one whale subspecies critically endangered. Which sounds bad until we understand the context.
The three remaining Right Whales used to be considered a single species. Recently some (but not all) whale experts have started viewing them as separate species according to geographical location. If that hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
The IUCN thinks there are more Southern Right Whales currently than there were three generations ago. Yay! But it considers those in the North Pacific endangered. In January, it changed the status of those in the North Atlantic to critically endangered.
As few as 200 adult Right Whales are thought to remain in the North Atlantic. But so what? Many other whales are still there. The natural world is always in flux. Change is constant. The loss of one subspecies of whale from one part of the world is no cause for alarm.
Canadian waters are home to 26 whale species. Of these, eight haven’t been assigned a status by the IUCN due to a paucity of data. It thinks one species – Hubbs’ Beaked Whale – is “relatively uncommon,” but admits five other kinds of beaked whales – Baird’s, Blainville’s, Sowerby’s, Stejneger’s, and True’s – are “not believed to be uncommon” (see here, here, here, here, and here). Moreover, it acknowledges that Killer Whales are “numerically abundant (at least tens of thousands of mature individuals)” and that there are at least 40,000 Northern Bottlenose Whales.
A further 11 Canadian whale species are classified as least concern by the IUCN (that organization has no unequivocal, thumbs-up ranking):
Which leaves seven Canadian whale species, including the North Atlantic Right Whales and North Pacific Right Whales discussed above.
Fin Whales are increasing and already exceed 100,000, but the IUCN says they, too, are vulnerable.
Blue Whales are likewise increasing, with a current population of betweeen 5,000 and 15,000. Nevertheless the IUCN classifies them as endangered.
It’s a similar story with Sei Whales. Despite a growing population that already tops 50,000, they’re considered endangered.
In conservation circles, words don’t mean what a reasonable person thinks they do. The bottom line is that we currently have millions of whales. The numbers cited here are conservative, and exclude non-Canadian whales. Yet they still add up to 2.5 million.
Whale populations have been rebounding since commercial whaling ended decades ago. As Shellenberger reminds us, “Nations harvest fewer than two thousand whales annually, an amount that is 97 percent less than the nearly seventy-five thousand whales killed in 1960.”
Yet the Canadian Wildlife Federation has just mailed out a fundraising appeal that declares: “Our whales are in trouble!” (see the top of this post).
By no stretch of the imagination is that statement true.