World Whale Day is coming up on Sunday, February 21st, I’d like to give a giant, grateful shout-out to the cetacean family (toothed and baleen whales, dolphins and porpoises)! Not only are whales biologically fascinating creatures and key indicators of healthy marine ecosystems, but many ocean lovers also have a soft spot for whales and feel a strong personal connection to these magnificent marine mammals. Some may be impressed by the sheer size and power of whales; for others, it may be their intelligence, complex social networks or devoted mothering. Or perhaps it’s their specialized and effective (not to mention impressive) hunting skills. Whales are also critical to many Indigenous people as an important marker of both culture and food security. For example, bowhead whales are a central feature of Inupiat culture, an essential source of food and cultural continuation.
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The connections human beings feel to cetaceans differ among our personal experiences, but they are also powerful in that diversity. In truth, my own connection to marine mammals has defined much of my life and my career. I’ve watched sperm whales outsmart fishermen by stealing valuable halibut just before the fish can be brought on board.
I’ve observed orca moms teaching their calves to hunt and survive using complex foraging strategies and communication. Humpback whales have circled beneath the water next to our boat only to emerge at the surface in a wash of bubbles and herring. I’ve read countless stories about whales and other cetaceans to my sons, and I will never forget the look on their faces when they watched a pod of dolphins bow-riding off the front of our boat.
There are plenty of marine scientists that begrudge (somewhat subconsciously) the amount of attention that whales receive relative to other important marine mammals, fish or invertebrate species. But let’s be honest: whales are awesome. And in my opinion, it all comes back to that key connection we feel. Whales deserve our admiration as iconic sentinels of ocean health and biodiversity. So on World Whale Day and every day…
Let’s hear it loud and clear for whales everywhere!