The blue whale is not only one of the most well-known species of whale, it’s also the largest known whale in existence growing to lengths of over 100 ft and weighing more than 150 tons; although 60 – 80 ft. is more common.
In the past (pre whaling era) blue whales were extremely abundant (150,000 – 200,000 before whaling began) and found swimming in all of the major oceans of the world, however today it is estimated that there are now only between 1,500 – 2,500 blue whales left in existence.
Because of their large size and supply of blubber blue whales were an extremely popular species to hunt and whalers would sell their blubber and body parts to suppliers who made various materials out of it.
In the past blue whales were hunted for:
- Oil – Lamp oil, soap, perfume, candles and cosmetics
- Food – Cooking oil, margarine and whale meat
- Clothing – corsets and umbrellas
- and various other products including tools such as fishing hooks.
How & why the hunting of blue whales began
During the 1,700′s whale blubber & oil became a lucrative business largely due to a growing industrial age and increasing dependency on oil combined with advances in technology and boating which made it easier for whalers to hunt, kill & capture whales, which quickly lead to a highly competitive (international) whaling market, and thus the whaling industry was born.
As technology, boats, and hunting equipment continued to evolve throughout the centuries the rate at which whales were being killed greatly increased and continued to shrink the existing whale populations, especially those of the blue whale and because blue whales were so large and whalers got paid top dollar for these mammals they were continually hunted by competitors until near extinction.
As whale populations declined significantly organizations such as The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling begin stepping in to limit the killing of endangered species and hopefully allow those species time to recover and repopulate.
In addition to the assistance these organizations provided towards the monitoring and regulation of whale hunting increases in technology and cheap alternative resources provided companies & suppliers with alternative methods of producing & selling their products without the need to use whale oil as a source of fuel or as an ingredient in their materials.
Although whales were being killed since the B.C. era it is believed that whale hunting hadn’t caused much ecological impact due to limited technology and most killings remained limited to the coast line and near offshore waters.
During the pre whaling era the demand for whales was also much lower as their oil was not considered as vital due to a lack of technological advances and little need for it in regards to pre 16th century industrial equipment.
The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling
In 1931 international agreements were made between various countries to minimize whale killings in an effort to help several species recover due to the endangered status of whales which was caused largely by the whaling industry.
The International Whaling Commission was created to monitor the whaling industry and limit their hunting efforts.
In 1986 the International Whaling Commission adopted a moratorium to prevent all whaling activities in the countries that signed into the agreement and established stronger legal actions among those caught participating in whaling activities.
Unfortunately even though agreements exist between various countries those that did not opt into the agreement are only bound by their countries own regulations on whaling (if the country has imposed regulations), which means that there are still countries today that consider whaling a source of industry.
Today however countries and companies that still hunt whales primarily hunt them as a source of food (in some areas whale meat is considered a delicacy) because other practical uses such as lamp oil, cosmetics and candles no longer require the parts or oil of whales to be produced.